Arran Malt is produced by the Isle of Arran (Arr-en) distillery. Located in the Lochranza village at the northern end of Arran island, this distillery is just over 20 years old. But don’t let the apparent young age fool you – Arran actually has a long history of whisky making.
In the 19th century, there are believed to have been several dozen whisky producers on the island. The remote location helped shield their operations from the watchful eye of excise tax agents, and it was apparently not uncommon to refer to “taking the Arran waters” as synonymous with having a glass of whisky in Scotland’s major cities. Eventually, as whisky production became more mainstream (and consistently taxed), the high cost of operation caused whisky producers to shut down on the island.
The modern Arran Malt single malt whisky is very much in the style of the previous production on the island. The base spirit is relatively gentle, creating a soft and light taste – as exemplified by the base 10 and 14 year old expressions. These are finished in a mix of American oak ex-bourbon barrels and first-fill/refill European oak sherry casks. There are also some newer longer-aged expressions available (e.g., 17 and 18 yo). Thoughtfully, Arran expressions are typically bottled at 46% ABV or higher, and are not chill-filtered.
These sorts of light whiskies lend themselves well to cask finishing, and Arran is also well known for one of the widest sets of wine cask-finished malts available (see below for some examples from my database). I will be reviewing a few of these other expressions in upcoming reviews.
For those on even more of a budget, Arran also produces a number of similarly light, entry-level, no-age-statement (NAS) expressions (like Lochranza and Robert Burns). There are even a few lightly peated editions (Machrie Moor and the Devil’s Punchbowl).
Before jumping into the base 10 yo expression, let’s see how the Arran Malts do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:
Arran Malt 10yo: 8.50 ± 0.30 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt 12yo Cask Strength: 8.63 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 14yo: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 17yo: 8.84 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 18yo: 8.92 ± 0.14 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish: 8.78 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Lochranza Reserve: 7.93 ± 0.67 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Arran Machrie Moor Peated: 7.88 ± 0.59 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Madeira Wine Cask: 8.62 ± 0.44 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Orkney Bere Barley: 8.80 ± 0.32 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.58 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Robert Burns: 8.29 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$)
Arran Malt Sauternes Finish: 8.52 ± 0.33 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Sherry Cask Finish: 8.29 ± 0.55 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt The Devil’s Punch Bowl (all chapters): 8.87 ± 0.30 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
And now compared to some similarly light malts, in the reasonable $$-$$$$ price class:
AnCnoc 12yo: 8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 12yo: 8.41 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu 12yo: 8.08 ± 0.47 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Craigellachie 13yo: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.67 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Deanston Virgin Oak: 8.13 ± 0.47 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve: 8.34 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Glen Moray 12yo: 7.99 ± 0.28 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glengoyne 10yo: 8.21 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Glenkinchie 12yo: 8.25 ± 0.17 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie 10yo: 8.47 ± 0.47 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Hazelburn 8yo: 8.39 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Knockando 12yo: 7.91 ± 0.42 on 12 reviews ($$)
Speyburn 10yo: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
I know those are a lot of numbers, but the up-shot is that Arran is, in general terms, one of the higher ranking examples of the light flavour class (i.e., supercluster G-H). Not bad for a relatively young distillery.
Let’s see what I find in the glass for the 10yo expression. My sample comes from Redditor wuhantang.
Nose: Sweet and malty, with light honey notes. Light fruits as well, mainly green apple, pear and plum. A bit citrusy. Some caramel. Grassy and a touch floral. Very slight solvent note (glue), which is consistent with the young age – but less offensive than usual. A nice nose overall, very easy-going.
Palate: Very malty again, with Arrowroot biscuits. Sweetened (green) apple juice. Caramel notes pick up further now, and take over from the light honey. Some mild spices pick up too, nutmeg and a touch of cinnamon. Surprisingly watery for 46% ABV, with a very light mouthfeel. Ok, but not overly interesting.
Finish: Medium-short. Oaky bitterness comes up quickly, intermingled with some of the sweet fruit notes. Honestly, reminds me a bit of some of the inexpensive Canadian blends which have similar issues.
My experience of this tasting was going fairly well, up until the finish. If it weren’t for that quickly emerging bitterness, I would have rated this one consistent with the Meta-Critic average. But as it is, I would personally have to drop it down a couple of points (i.e., 8.3). The AnCnoc 12 yo is probably a better choice for similar cost, and the slightly more expensive Dalwhinnie 15 yo is definitely a step up in my books. But the Arran 10 yo is still a very decent option in its price class, scoring higher than a number of well-known malts.
Ralfy, Michael of Diving for Pearls, Nathan the Scotch Noob, and the guys at Quebec Whisky are generally all very positive on this expression (although I’m more in line with Martin). John of Whisky Advocate gives it a relatively low score (but that is an earlier version).