Whisky and Words Number 89: The Arran Cask Finish – Sauternes

The Arran Cask Finish, Sauternes, liquid sunshine.

I originally brought in the Arran Cask Finish Sauternes for a comparison to the Glenmorangie Nectar D’or, in review 49. But this whisky deserves its own post. The Island of Arran has some history with illicit whisky-making, and one legal distillery ran in the 1800s. The Arran distillery was made new in 1994-1995, founded by a private company, Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd. As far as I can tell, Arran is still an independent distiller (with a new sister distillery also on the island, Lagg).

I paid $77, for this dram in 2019, though it’s up to $86 now with the tariffs. The Arran is  true craft offering, bottled at 50% ABV, non-chill filtered and uses no artificial colors. It is a really gorgeous dram as you can see from the photos (click for a hi-res view), a very clear medium amber. The front label declares ‘Each cask is specially selected by our master distiller’ and signed by James MacTaggart. You can see James here, in their brief profile. 45 years in the industry marks James as an old hand indeed.

That is one photogenic whisky!

The company’s web presence has some nice info on the philosophy of the distillery, to wit: it’s all about the water. Cascading down waterfalls from “Loch Na Davie in the hills high above the distillery. The clear water cascades down the Easan Biorach burn through six waterfalls, each one purifying the water further.” They claim “the purest water in all of Scotland” so I’m interested to see if there is any hint of earthy peat as so many Scotches have. They go on to detail their production process—at what ABV each stage is distilled to—and then cover their approach to aging: ‘we bottle most of our single malts at 46% ABV or at cask-strength. We never add anything artificial – so all the colour in our whisky comes from the wood of the cask.’ They take a solid craft approach all the way to bottling, eschewing chill filtration…for the most part: ‘we never chill-filter our malts when they are bottled above 43% Vol.’

This dram is at 50% ABV, not chill filtered and states so. There is no age statement, so I wonder how refined it will be. How does it taste? I always start with aroma. The uncorking test is inconclusive, as there are no strong flavors from this whisky, though after a minute I get a sweet fruity aroma in my little office. With a distant nosing you will pick up the grape flavor of the sauternes. It’s a fairly clean grape smell at first, like a Sauvignon Blanc, though the sweetness you expect from a Sauternes finish  hints as well. Delving into the glass, there is truly no peat to it, not even the boggy peat you find in so many Speysiders. The only mineral note is a very clean granite.

The aroma carries some other fruit smells like apple (I’m fond of the Envy variety and this reminds me of that), honeydew melon and apricot. The nose has a bit of spice as well. I can get a pretty strong whiff before the high ABV annoys the nose; even then it’s a gentle heat, as the Arran is a well-behaved near-cask strength dram. For a NAS whisky, it is superb.

Wondering where to find Arran? They’ve given us a map.

On the palate, the flavor is fruity, spicy, a bit aggressive from the ABV but that’s well in hand. It tastes like you would expect if one of Tolkien’s elves created an amber liquid…it has a bit of magic. The Arran’s sweetness is remarkably clean and tight, not cloying whatsoever, complementing the bountiful fruity nose. The palate is true to the nose, it finishes cleanly with a touch of tannic bitters, with the spice all the way through keeping it interesting.

With a tiny splash of water, the alcohol is not so hot on the tongue and that uncovers honeysuckle on the palate.

The Arran Sauternes Cask Finish, single malt, 50% ABV

Nose: Lots of fruit – apple, honeydew melon, apricot, and a starkly clean minerality.
Palate: Still lots of fruit, very tight and clean sweetness, think honeysuckle, rather than honey.
Finish: Clean, crisp, just enough spicy, woody tannin to offset the honeysuckle. I find of the flavors on the nose, the honeydew melon lingers the longest.

Bottom Line: This whisky was an incredible value at $77 and even with the Trump Tarriff, still a good buy as it is head and shoulders above some more pretentious whiskies like the Glenmorangie Astar, another NAS whisky which is a lot more expensive and frankly, not all that great. The Arran Cask Finish delivers the sort of special experience you expect from a premium whisky and I recommend it for a special occasion whisky when you want to impress…others, or yourself!

Author: H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.

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