Tag Archives: Arran

Arran Malt 12 Year Old Cask Strength

The Arran Malt distillery makes a number of very popular single malts in the light flavour class (i.e., supercluster G-H), as well as a large number of wine cask-finished malts.  As discussed in my recent review of their 10 year old expression, while the distillery itself is relatively young, there is a long history and tradition of whisky making on the isle of Arran.

While I found their standard 10 yo expression decent enough, there wasn’t really much for me to recommend it over other entry-level examples of this class.  I almost picked up the 12 year old cask-strength edition last year (on a recommendation from a LCBO employee), but let it pass in favour of a wine-cask finished expression (review to come soon). Fortunately, I had the chance to try this 12 yo malt recently in a restaurant in Norway.

Note that there have been a number of different batches of the Arran 12 Year Old Cask Strength over the last few years. I know the LCBO version was 54.0% ABV, but I’ve seen other strengths reported online for the earlier batches.  The bottle I sampled from appears to have been from the same stock as the LCBO (i.e., 54%).

Let’s see how the relevant Arran Malts do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, compared to the competition for similar price, flavour and strength camps:

Arran Malt Lochranza Reserve: 7.93 ± 0.67 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Robert Burns: 8.29 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$)
Arran Malt 10yo: 8.50 ± 0.30 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt 12yo Cask Strength: 8.65 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 14yo: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
AnCnoc 12yo: 8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 12yo: 8.41 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach Cask Strength: 8.86 ± 0.10 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach 10yo Cask Strength (100 proof): 9.05 ± 0.13 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Craigellachie 13yo: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.67 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Glenkinchie 12yo: 8.25 ± 0.17 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Tomatin Cask Strength: 8.35 ± 0.48 on 9 reviews ($$$$)

And now let’s see what I find in the glass for this 12 yo cask strength sample:

Nose: Very sweet up front, with honey, simple sugar, and maybe even a little light brown sugar. Apple juice, with a wide range of lighter fruits peaking though – including apple, pear, peaches and plums. A bit of anise. Spicy, in the direction of cloves and all spice. Grassy character. Vanilla.  No off notes. Very nice, and a great improvement over the 10 yo.

Palate: Pears and green apple are the dominant fruit notes (and apple juice again). Butterscotch comes on strong now, and adds to the vanilla. Marshmallows. Texture is thick and creamy, giving it a great mouthfeel. Surprisingly easy to drink, and not very hot, despite the 54% ABV. With a little water, there isn’t much change in flavour, but it gains a slightly grainier texture (i.e., less malty, more raw barley). There’s is also a eucalyptus note now and graham crackers. With even more water, pepper and the spices pick up – but the other flavours dull.

Arran12Finish‎: Medium. Longer than the 10 yo, but it would be nice if it were even longer here. Some slight astringent bitterness, but mild. Water may increase this bitterness though, and bring in some artificial sweetener notes, so go easy on it. Frankly the finish (while decent) is the weakest part of this expression.

Wow, this was a pleasant surprise. Personally, I would put this on par with Dalwhinnie 15 as among the best of the light G-H flavour supercluster. Certainly far surpasses the Arran Malt 10 yo, or AnCnoc 12 yo. I regret not picking a bottle up when it was available at the LCBO.

Among reviewers, Josh the Whiskey Jug is a fan, as are Andre, Martin and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. Ralfy and and Gavin of Whisky Advocate gives it a more moderate score. The only truly negative score I’ve seen comes from Jim Murray.

Arran Malt 10 Year Old

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.

Arran.Malt.10Finish: 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).