The Arran Distillery is one of the few remaining independent distilleries in Scotland and an exciting new force in the Scotch whisky industry. Founded in 1995 near Lochranza on the Isle of Arran, it’s also the first legal distillery on the island in 157 years, following the closure of Lagg in 1837. Of course that’s not to say that a little distilling didn’t already take place on the island in that time – 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.
Now a century and a half later, Harold Currie, former Managing Director of Chivas Brothers and House of Campbell, decided he’d bring the magical Arran Water back to life and fulfil his dream of building his own whisky distillery following his illustrious career in the whisky industry. 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. Arran benefits from the warmth of the Gulf Stream, 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. Over the next eight years the distillery brought out a variety of NAS cask finish expressions while building a loyal following for their signature creamy, fruity malts. The distillery’s first 10 year old was released in 2005 and it remains the heart of the Arran range. The 14 year old was added in 2010 and the core range was completed in 2015 with the launch of their 18 year old. The core range is complemented by an exciting and ever-evolving range of limited editions including Machrie Moor, the island’s first peated whisky, various vintage expressions and the now iconic Devil’s Punchbowl, inspired by the glacial hollow Coire na Ciche on the north-east coast of Arran. In a cunning move, the distillery also became a patron of the World Burns Federation and as such is the only whisky distillery able to use the image and signature of Robert Burns on their packaging.
Today the Distillery remains fiercely independent and committed to making cutting edge fine whiskies for the modern Scotch drinker