The Arran Distillery is located in Lochranza, on the beautiful Isle of Arran, off the West coast of Scotland. The island is actually separated from the Hebrides (Isles of Islay, Jura etc.) by a finger of the Scottish mainland, so it doesn't enjoy the same cult status. Arran is the only legal distillery on it's namesake isle, in fact it's the first to operate on the island since 1837!
Arran is a young, privately-owned distillery, which only recently celebrated it's 20th birthday, having started production in August of 1995. The distillery is relatively small, having only a single pair of stills, and a maximum production capacity of around 750,000 litres per year, although their actual output is significantly less than that. Their whiskies do enjoy a small cult following, particularly the now-ended 'devil's punchbowl' series, which have become seriously collectable, and therefore seriously expensive.
Arran are producing mainly un-peated malt, but in a rather traditional way, using wooden wash-backs, with no adding colouring, and mostly without chill filtration. However, on the Western side of the island, you'll find the ancient peat bog named Machrie Moor, which is the stuff of local legend, largely thanks to a number of stone circles, which date back thousands of years. Quite a fitting name for a peated Arran whisky, then!
There have been a few releases of Machrie Moor peated Arran, all peated to around 20ppm, but only one release so far has been bottled at cask strength. It doesn't carry an age statement, but it's non-chill filtered, naturally coloured, and bottled at a natural 58.4%. It's also very well priced, at $125 AUD from Nippy Sweetie Whiskies, who generously supplied the sample I'm reviewing tonight. Considering it was released back in October 2014, and only 6000 bottles left the warehouse, it's not very easy to find. But somehow, Craig & team still have some in stock!
Arran Machrie Moor Cask Strength, NAS, 58.4%. Isle of Arran, Scotland.
Peated to 20ppm, non-chill filtered, natural colour. Batch 1, released 10/2014, 6,000 bottles.
Colour: Pale gold.
Nose: Lemon & herb oil, soft peat in the background. Scorched/burnt pineapple, floral soap, hint of dry dirt. Dried chilli flakes, and a little oak. Quite soft on the nose actually, but also a little spirit-y.
Texture: Juicy, rich & powerful. Very nice.
Taste: Sharp earthy peat, more lemon oil but with chilli this time, and it's in the background now with the peat coming to the fore. More scorched pineapple, lime-flavoured boiled sweets/lollies, some wood ash and a little sharp/acrid smoke.
Finish: Medium. Chilli milk chocolate, with extra chilli! Then creamy peat, and some smoked fruit syrup.
Score: 3.5 out of 5.
Notes: Very impressive! The peat is quite dominant on the palate, but very soft on the nose, so it's walking softly while carrying a big stick. It's young, powerful, simplistic and spirit-driven, but I like it. It's not harsh or rough, but it is quite bite-y, and doesn't make any apologies. And for those of us who appreciate this style of whisky, it doesn't have to!
With a little more age or cask influence I think I may have scored it slightly higher, but then again it could have lost some of that peaty power if that was the case, so perhaps not. I don't think I'd pick it as an island whisky in a blind tasting either, but not having tried any other Arran's whiskies, I can't say if that's just the way they are. So don't go into this one expecting a Ledaig or Islay-type experience, it has more of a peated mainland character, I think.
For the price, and remembering that it's bottled at cask strength, it's really quite good value, and certainly well worth a buy. There's not a lot of similar competition at this price point either. I'd be interested to try the 46% versions, although I suspect I would still prefer this one. It looks like there's a second batch of the cask strength Machrie Moor being released shortly, so the popularity could be on the rise. Until that one arrives, Nippy Sweetie are the only Australian source for this first batch, at least that I could find. So get it while it's hot!