There was a time when what existed of the whisky social media “scene” was focused on the Arran distillery, as it was the first and only new distillery in Scotland since the “whisky loch” of the 70s and 80s saw so many distillery closures. (Kinivie opened several years prior, but I just decided it doesn’t count because it’s actually part of Balvenie.) There was much fanfare when Arran released its first 10 year-old single malt and joined the pantheon.
It took me quite a while to get around to trying Arran’s 18 year offering. In this modern era of NAS (no age statement) bottlings and youthful special editions, the 18-year statement has become both a blessing and a curse. There’s much cachet to be had with a whisky that managed to stick around for 18 years in cask, but it also comes with a much heftier price tag than previously. Now that barrels are getting snapped up by independent bottlers or siphoned off into special editions or just simply selling younger due to demand, not as many casks get the full 18 years. Less mature whisky to go around, more demand… prices get obscene. I saw a Macallan 18 the other day for $500 on the shelf. I remember bemoaning its rise above $120.
Arran 18, however, is available to salve that particular wound. It’s not cheap per se, but it’s one of the few good deals in age-stated 18 year bottlings… when it’s not sold out that is. If you look hard enough (or order internationally – £75 without VAT! – or patiently wait for the market to calm down) you can find a bottle for under $130.
The bottle itself contains 18 year-old Arran single malt aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. The whisky is bottled at 46% ABV without chill filtration or added color.
Nose: Juicy red berries (raspberries!), redcurrants, piercingly tart fresh pears, and red licorice. A background of honey and mild malt can be found, but it’s mostly the fruit. A prolonged rest in the glass brings out some vanilla and increased sweetness.
Palate: Medium body. Tannic grape skins up front, followed by a mild tongue burn and then a reprise of all the fruit notes from the aroma. The honey is clearer, and everything holds together across the palate.
Finish: Of medium length. Grape skins, again, plus aniseed or cardamom. Fades with only slight bitterness.
With Water: Several drops of water bring out more vanilla sweetness at the expense of some of the tart fruits. The palate and finish become more bitter. This does not need any water.
Overall: A light, fruity, but flawless dram. Excellent fruit, a supporting cast of malt and honey, and good structure on the finish, with only the barest amount of bitterness for balance. A luxury, but an affordable one. I’ve given this a “Recommended” rating, but it’s really a “Must Try” if you find a good deal. At today’s UK exchange rates, without VAT, you could theoretically buy a 700ml bottle for $86. That would be a “Must Have”.