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.
As I covered in the review of their bourbon, Stein distillery (website) is a small, craft distiller in Joseph, Oregon. This is not the damp and mossy Oregon where I live; Joseph is located in the high plains, with sunny, hot summers and cold winters. They’ve been around for 12 years now and I found the straight Bourbon quite good.
According to the hand-written notation on the label, my rye is bottle 8 from barrel 560—that’s a tell on the scale of the Stein operation. They are small. And they are local. You can read about how they source their grain from Eastern Oregon farmers in a profile about the family-built and family-run operation here. Their website is spare—you can see photos of their spirits and a short writeup on their whiskies here. But they provide no info on the mash bill or any other production details. Stein calls this spirit ‘straight rye,’ but that just means it is not blended with any other spirits and it is aged at least 2 years.
Dalwhinnie 15 is a whisky that has flown under my radar for too long. Before the pandemic, the Dalwhinnie was mentioned by a whisky buddy as her favorite. I smacked myself in the forehead, of course! How had I missed it?
Located on the Trium, a tributary of the Spey, Dalwhinnie is considered both a Speysider but also a Highland distillery. The distillery is located on the far side of Cairngorms National Park from Dufftown (heart of the Speyside region) and they brag about it being the highest and coldest whisky distillery in Scotland, so I’m approaching it as a Highlander and will compare to the Clynelish 14, a lower-priced dram, but also a Highlander. Both are from Diageo and I’m interested to see how they are differentiated.
Glenfiddich is made by the same outfit that produce the Balvenie, and right next door at that, in the heart of Speyside. I find their 12-year okay, along the lines of the Glenlivet 12. In fact they duked it out in Glenfiddich’s 12-year review, the Battle of the Speyside Giants. The Glenfiddich 12 had a good nose, was not too sweet, sported some floral notes, was smooth, and not much of a finish. I covered the Glenlivet 12 here. Today however we’re stepping up a fair bit to the Solera Reserve 15-year. We’re a further $20 up the road from the 12, what’s the big deal?
Of course, this spirit has been 3 years in cask longer than the 12 but also developed from whiskies in a range of casks: the typical ex-bourbon, but also new oak and sherry casks. The new oak is a twist on the regular 12, but the big deal here is the vatting, where the selection of casks for the bottling are married. That’s where the Solera vat comes into play. As noted in the 12-year review, Glenfiddich uses oak tuns for the marry; furthermore, these Solera tuns are never emptied. As we read on the back of the carton, these tuns “host an infinity of malts.” William Grant also add a blurb about being family owned, which is quite remarkable for such a large producer.
Highland Park first came to my attention early on when I was reading many other blogs about Scotch. The HP 12-year was mentioned as a solid, well-made scotch at a reasonable price by a couple reviewers, but it was Jason Debly’s blog post here that sold me. In my own review of the 12-year, I covered some details of Highland Park’s creation: barrel selection and treatment, and where they get their barley:
“We are malting 20% of the total malt we use onsite. We then peat this malt before drying. Our makeup of malt is 20% peated (malted and peated on site) and 80% unpeated (bought from commercial maltsters).“
So I encourage you to give that review a look if you’re interested in some of the Highland Park production details. The snippet above gives you a hint to their whisky’s flavor profile: HP is mildly peated, with only 20% of the malt having been treated with peat smoke. It won’t clear out a room when you open it, sending peat neophytes grabbing for their masks (as an Octomore would). But it does have enough smokiness to help you imagine being near a cheery bonfire at the beach. Just not downwind.