The following originally appeared on Food Digital on March 21, 2013:
Turning on the lights, or, in some cases, turning the lights back on, is a costly proposition for any distillery. In recent years we’ve seen Islay’s Ardbeg and Bruichladdich, Portsoy’s Glenglassaugh and Campbeltown’s Glengyle distilleries release young spirit and/or young whisky while waiting for their standard releases to come of age. We’re about to see something slightly different from Arran distillery.
Launched in 1995, Arran’s only distillery, nestled in the northwest corner of the island in the village of Lochranza, barely registered on the malt map when they released their four year old single malt in 1999.
Despite releasing new bottlings along the way, it would take a further decade and a change of management for the distillery to make a serious impression in the whisky world. In 2009, the distillery launched the Icons of Arran series and quickly captured the hearts and palates of the whisky community.
Released with little fanfare the first Icon of Arran celebrated the distillery’s peacock, Albert. With the distillery entrusting the new packaging to the graphics team at Pocket Rocket, Albert proudly displayed his bright tail feathers on both the bottle’s front label and the eye-catching canister. Thankfully, the twelve year old whisky inside the bottle was every bit as confident and attractive as one of Albert’s showy displays. With a vatting of bourbon and sherry matured stock, Arran had finally come of age and word spread quickly.
Peacock was followed by Rowan Tree, Westie (a celebration of Ruaraidh, pronounced roo-ree, Distillery Manager James MacTaggart’s wee white dog), and, finally, in 2012, Golden Eagle. During these four years Arran also released some excellent wine finished bottlings, young peated spirit, introduced their standard ten and fourteen year old releases, and celebrated the 15th anniversary of the distillery.
Which brings us to the “something slightly different” mentioned above. While we’re familiar with distilleries releasing six, seven, eight, and nine year old bottlings on their way to releasing their standard ten year old, Arran has recently started the countdown to the release of their eighteen year old.
This year will see the distillery launch their oldest commercial release, a sixteen year old with a limited global release of 9000 bottles vatted from bourbon and sherry stock. Next year will see a similarly limited release of seventeen year old whisky before Arran launches their eighteen year old standard release in 2015.
After the success of the four Icons releases, I’m excited to take another journey with Arran’s single malt. I have no doubt the releases over the next three years will be every bit as good as the four we enjoyed during the Icons series.
With innovative award winning packaging, a Distillery Manager who knows his whisky inside and out, and a Managing Director who seems to have the future well thought out, Arran distillery has come a long way since its inception in 1995.
And, thankfully, the lights remain on.