April 2018 Whisky of the Month:
This April, created for your exclusive drinking pleasure, we invite you to enjoy a genuine Scotch rarity. We’ve teamed up with the legendary James McTaggart and his excellent team at Isle of Arran Distillers to create and bottle, exclusively for the Club, Arran’s first ever 100% moscatel cask matured single malt whisky. This unique small batch is from nine specially selected sister casks, all distilled on 17 May 2008 and bottled for us on 16 January 2018.
James’s skill is evident from the first sniff. He’s created a small batch masterpiece of freshly baked hot cross buns and apple danishes drizzled with golden syrup, freshly pressed cider apples and orange skins, light spice and mouth-watering milk chocolate – quite simply, this is one whisky you don’t want to miss!
If you haven’t already, click here to join the Club now.
Country of Origin:
At the tender of age of 23, Isle of Arran Distillery is one of the new kids on the Scottish block. Founded in 1995 near Lochranza on the north of the island, not only is it the first legal distillery on Arran in 159 years, but it joins the ranks of the few independent distilleries still operating in Scotland. In this very short time Arran has built a very strong reputation for high quality malt whisky, which explains the common sentiment among whisky lovers that you ‘never get a bad Arran’.
Despite the late arrival of the distillery at Lochranza, whisky is by no means foreign to the island – like most good Scots the islanders have a healthy disregard for the law and it’s believed that at one stage there were about fifty illegal distilleries on Arran. Indeed, since the late 1700s, Arran’s majestic rolling hills and glens have provided the perfect cover for illicit distillers to produce ‘uisge beatha’ away from the watchful eyes of the Customs men, and the reputation of ‘Arran Water’ quickly spread to the mainland where it was regarded as amongst the best in Scotland.
All good things start with a dream and in this case it was Harold Currie’s. Sitting at his desk running someone else’s business, the former Managing Director of Chivas Brothers (Glenlivet, Aberlour, Chivas, Longmorn, Scapa, etc.) dreamed of building his own distillery and settled upon the Isle of Arran to fulfil this vision. Aside from Arran’s historic reputation, the case to choose the island as the location for his distillery was overwhelming, given its pristine waters and unique climate. Thanks to the fault line that divides it into two very different sections, Arran replicates Scotland’s climate – the rocky and mountainous north and the lush green pastures of the south – just like on the mainland. The island also benefits from the warmth of the Gulf Stream (they actually have palm trees around the shores!), while the Kintyre peninsula provides a degree of shelter from the prevailing westerly winds, perfect for whisky maturation. It also doesn’t hurt that the island is situated off the west coast making it an easy hour’s drive from Glasgow to the ferry, and today the distillery welcomes around 55,000 visitors a year keen to discover the new Arran Water in person.
And it’s not just human visitors the distillery has attracted over the years: just after building started on the distillery it was halted immediately to allow a pair of Golden Eagles nesting in the hills above Lochranza to hatch their young for a couple of months. As a ‘token of their appreciation’ the eagles provided a fly past during the official opening ceremony and in turn they now adorn the Arran logo. And if rare eagles weren’t enough, for centuries a white stag has had worship status amongst the islanders, with good fortune apparently meeting all those who spy the noble beast. On the opening morning the distillery manager and head distiller spotted the white stag grazing in the meadow overlooking the distillery, bringing good fortune ever since, or so the Arran folk will tell you.
Arran distillery’s construction was completed in the summer of 1995 and the first middle-cut of spirit ran through the spirit safe at 14.29pm on 29 June 1995, marking the beginning of a legend. It was another three years before the first whisky was ready for bottling and on 25 July 1998 none other than Ewan McGregor opened the first cask of Arran Single Malt Scotch whisky (legally) distilled on the island for almost 160 years. McGregor did well out of the deal with the distillery sorting him out with a cask of whisky by way of thanks for his visit.
So there you have it, your whisky this month brought to you by eagles, deer and Ewan McGregor.
On to the serious stuff. Initially Arran was known for releasing a variety of NAS cask finish expressions while building a loyal following for their signature creamy, fruity malts but these have been pared back over the years as their whisky came of age and the core range is well and truly mature now in Scotch terms, complete from a 10YO through to an 18YO. Today the Distillery remains fiercely independent and committed to making cutting edge fine whiskies for the discerning Scotch drinker, evident in the fantastic collaboration on our whisky this month: the first ever batch of 100% moscatel cask matured Arran single malt whisky, created exclusively for The Whisky Club from nine specially selected sister casks, all distilled on the same day in May 2008.
Non-chill filtered, natural colour and bottled at a perfect 50% ABV.
About 2008 Arran Moscatel Cask Single Malt Whiskey:
James MacTaggart is the Master Distiller at Arran and since taking over the job in 2007 he’s brought his simple but effective philosophy of ‘a contemporary whisky, a traditional distillation’ to bear with exceptional results. Arran uses the traditional methods of distilling including wooden washbacks for fermentation and copper pot stills designed to their exact specification. No caramel or artificial colourants are tolerated and all Single Malts are non-chill filtered, which as we all know means they’re natural in pigment and exactly the way whisky should be.
The distillery uses two types of barley, Optic and Oxbridge, both selected because of their superior yields of fermentable sugars for the distiller to convert into alcohol. The malted barley is put through the distillery’s grist-mill before being mashed, yielding around 13,000 litres of wort per batch, before being fermented in the distillery’s Oregon Pine washbacks. There’s an age-old debate as to the use of wooden washbacks vs. stainless steel with traditionalists arguing that the residue build up in the wooden washback adds more flavour to the whisky. You be the judge.
The Arran Single Malt is double distilled in the traditional Scottish style, first in the wash still, followed by the spirit still. The liquid is boiled in the wash still by means of internal steam fins, and driven off as a vapour that passes through the tall, swan neck of the still. This vapour then passes through a condenser where it is brought back to a liquid form, known as Low Wines. The Low Wines are collected in the receiver from the first distillation at around 23% ABV.
The Low Wines are then filled into the spirit still for the second distillation. Again, the liquid in the spirit still is boiled by internal steam fins and after 30 minutes foreshots begin to appear in the spirit safe. Foreshots appear at 74% ABV but contain too many volatile compounds to be collected as spirit so these are diverted into the Low Wines/Feints receiver. After a further 20 minutes spirit known as the heart or middle-cut of the run can be collected at an average strength of 68% ABV. This is reduced with local water to 63.5% ABV and is then filled into oak casks for maturation.
Arran are currently filling about 75% first fill bourbon barrels, 15% first fill Sherry Hogsheads and about 10% refill Sherry Hogsheads and Butts. Interestingly, until 2007 a proportion of the casks were stored off the island at nearby Springbank Distillery in Campbelltown due to a lack of room at the distillery caused by legal restrictions preventing the extension of the existing warehouses. But as we know, problems lead to innovative solutions and the distillery now has a revolutionary storage warehouse on site that allows greater storage capacity and easier access to barrels. Today there are six warehouses onsite at the distillery, a mixture of dunnage, racking and palletised, and there plans to build further warehouses as production increases.
As we discussed earlier, in the early days Arran was known for releasing a variety of NAS cask finish expressions. One of these was a mostcatel finish released for the German market in 2008, however the casks did such a good job that it would have been a shame to do away with them and they were promptly filled with new make spirit with a view to releasing a small batch of 100% moscatel cask maturation at some point in the future – a serious rarity in Scotch terms. We’re pleased to say that the future is now and we’re the lucky devils to get our hands on it. Thanks to a very convivial distillery collaboration we’re thrilled to present the first ever batch of 100% moscatel cask matured Arran single malt whisky, created exclusively for The Whisky Club from nine specially selected sister casks, all distilled on the same day in May 2008.
$125 per bottle + $15 flat fee postage
Age on release:
9 years and 8 months
100% moscatel cask
Arran quick facts
Place of origin: Lochranza, Isle of Arran KA27 8HJ, Scotland, United Kingdom
Water source: Loch na Davie
Washbacks: Oregon Pine
Number of stills: 2 wash stills, and 2 spirit stills
Capacity: 1,200,000 litres per annum
Nose: Smells of the bakery. Cinnamon buns and apple Danish with a dash of golden syrup.
Palate: Great weight, but fresh. Fairy floss and freshly pressed cider apples followed by orange skins.
Finish: Sweetness fades to light spice and milk chocolate.