So last Thursday I attended a scotch tasting held at Gomer's Midtown to promote the products of The Arran Malt
, produced on (oddly enough) the Isle of Arran, which sits in the bay between Prestwick and Campbelltown off the west coast of Scotland. The distillery was started in 1995. As the distributor rep who was hosting the event explained, Arran had dozens and dozens of distilleries in the early 1800s, but they lacked that certain jenny say quoits known as licensing from the Crown. So the revenoors came in and shut them all down, until now.
To get the brand name out while waiting for the whisky to mature, the owners had a blend and a single malt made for them. We started out with them:
1 -- Lochranza (the name of the town where the distillery is located). A quiet, not particularly impressive blend. Not the worst I've had, but nothing to write home about.
2 -- Robert Burns. "Silver Medal Winner and Best In Class at the IWSC 2007," it is described on the website as an "aperitif whisky." It is quite light, both in taste and color (no coloring agents added to any of their products).
At this point, we were served the first of the actual Arran Malts. It was mentioned in passing that Arran does not use peat to roast the malted barley. A number of the 30 or so people there (myself included) reacted in shock. This seemed a radical break with tradition that should be emphasized.
3 -- Arran Chill-Filtered single malt. This is an undated whisky (the rep said it was either 3 or 5 years old, and was released at the behest of the accountants to help build the brand while the 10 y.o. was maturing). Light, a bit rough (though not as much as I was expecting), but not particularly impressive.
4 -- Arran Unchill-Filtered. The same whisky, the difference being it wasn't chill-filtered (a process that removes fats, esters and other byproducts by chilling the whisky until they solidify and separate out). Holy crap on a stick! I would not have believed 3 and 4 were from the same distillery, much less the same whisky. Much more rounded and robust flavor. Still a bit rough, but light years better than its brother.
The rep said that chill filtering became popular because consumers who liked their whisky on the rocks found the cloudiness the occured as unchill filtered whisky became cold unappealing. Get a freakin' life, or stick to a blend (note: actual Scottish spring water was provided to add to the whisky, which they purchased at Target. The addition of a few drops did significantly improve all of the whiskys tasted).
5 -- Arran 10 y.o. single malt. My notes just say "lovely." The brochure talks about vanilla notes and all the usual stuff. It tasted good, went down smooth.
6 -- Ledaig 10 y.o. Served as a contrast to the Arran, Ledaig is distilled on Mull, an island north of Islay and Jura, and has a nice peaty flavor, but not so much that it tipped into the oiliness of Lagavulin (not that there's anything wrong with Lagavulin, mind). It was interesting to compare the two.
At this point, they got into the specialty malts of Arran. They have several different ones, with more on the way. All of these are 8 y.o. whiskys that are finished for various periods of time in the specified casks.
7 -- Burgundy finish. Didn't get the specifics of the burgundy, but this is one damn fine whisky. The burgundy adds a wonderful depth and smoothness to the whisky.
8 -- Napoleon Cognac finish. This one was a bit harsh to me, though a number of other tasters thought it was the best in show.
The evening finished with another specialty whisky from the same distributor, though not an Arran product
9 -- Islay Vatting, 10 y.o. A blend of whiskys from all the Islay distilleries, it had a nice smokiness to it and a very good taste. One of the participants bought five bottles.
So, at the end, they revealed the prices. Not surprisingly, No. 1 was the cheapest, at $23.50. The Burns was $45, and the Ledaig and Islay Vatting were each $50. 3 and 4 (which have been discontinued), were $39. The Arran 10 y.o. was $52. All of the special finishes were $92, including a port cask finish that wasn't part of the official tasting and was quite excellent.
My rankings: 7, 6, 4-5 (tie), 2-8-9 (tie), 3, 1. I recommend Arran to anyone who likes good whisky. The lack of peat gives the products a lighter and different taste spectrum. Those who dislike the smokiness of scotch might give this one a try.
Arran is (their description) a boutique distillery. The distribution of most of the products is on the order of two 6-bottle cases per state .There was a mad dash by folks to place orders, and I was fortunate enough to get on the list for the unchill filtered when the next shipment came in. So today, in the midst of a truly hellish day at work (the Nelson-Atkins gallery will have a major showing of Chinese art starting Oct. 6; we're doing much of the signs and banners for it) my phone rang, and the nice guy from Gomer's told my he had a bottle with my name on it at the store. Now, as I said at the beginning, I just need to come up with $39.