The following originally appeared across Whiskyhost and Guid Scotch Drink February 2010 to April 2012:
I've had my eyes on the subject of this week's Tuesday Tasting since WhiskyNotes reviewed it in September and Edinburgh Whisky Blog tasted it in October. I've been keeping a close eye on the Arran distillery since its inception in 1995. I grew up in Ayr, a short ferry ride across the Firth of Clyde from the Isle of Arran, so I tend to consider this my 'home malt'. I even bought this bottle from Robbie's Drams in my hometown of Ayr. This first bottling in the Icons of Arran series was produced from 13 bourbon barrels and 7 sherry hogsheads. Only 6000 bottles were released and none are intended for the US market. This bottle cost £39.
Arran, Icons of Arran #1: Peacock, 12 Year Old, 46% ABV
N: Crème brûlée, vanilla, ripe red berries, rhubarb crumble, honey sits politely in the background
P: Very juicy with citrus and more red berry notes, strawberries and cream in the middle, reminiscent of a quality pinot noir
F: Lots of wood, lasting vanilla, lingering honey, short but pleasant
Overall: Solid whisky from Arran that, if I were to quibble, might be a little too winey for some people (those red berries remain prominent throughout the tasting). Overall, though, it didn't disappoint after I spent five months looking forward to tasting it!
One of last year's surprise whisky gems was the first Icons of Arran Distillery bottling: The Peacock. Well, Arran have followed that release with their second Icons of Arran Distillery: The Rowan Tree. This latest release was distilled in 1997, aged in 10 ex-sherry butts and bottled in 2010. Limited to 6000 bottles, it cost me £38 from Robbie's Drams in my hometown of Ayr.
Arran, Icons of Arran #2: Rowan Tree, 12 Year Old, 46% ABV
C: Bright gold
N: Fruity (quince and green grapes), also red and green wine gums, the faintest hint of latex gloves, cinnamon and nutmeg with a buttery note in the background (redolent of an early summer fruit pie)
P: Nicely oily mouthfeel, similar notes to the nose: gentle fruits that don't overpower, sweet without being cloying, distinct elements of brown sugar slowly dissolving in melted butter
F: Moderate, sweet, soft and fruity
Overall: Good but no Peacock. How often does the younger sibling get an opportunity to shine once the all conquering elder sibling has had their way with the world? If only the sherry was more expressive. Or the fruit more assertive. Instead, everything sits in balance with no single note leading the way.
The third release in the Icons of Arran series, this latest bottling follows on from Peacock (1996 vintage) and Rowan Tree (1997 vintage). While the Peacock was phenomenal, and easily one of my favorite releases of 2009, the Rowan Tree was something of a disappointment, while still being a good Scotch. Westie is drawn from 22 ex-sherry casks filled in 1998, bottled at 46% Alc. and sold for $40 a bottle.
Arran, Icons of Arran #3: Westie, 12 Year Old, 46% ABV
C: Pale gold
N: The freshness of Refresher chews with a little harbor brininess, there's also crisp green apples, warm hay, and even a little sage
P: Straight from a 10pence mix-up (remember those?): Love Hearts, more Refresher chews, and Fruit Salads. Apple pie, pear crumble and then a woody spice, I'm thinking turmeric, on the end
F: Moderate length, warm and buttery with lingering sweetness and balancing spice
Overall: More Peacock than Rowan Tree, metaphorically speaking! This is a return to form for James McTaggart. I recommend buying a bottle... now!
And so we reach the end of the Icons of Arran series. Who knew what Albert the Peacock had kicked off in 2009? It's been a great series and one that I eagerly anticipated from year to year. The Peacock was a tremendous opener and while I thought 2011's Westie more than made up for the relative disappointment of 2010's Rowan Tree I'm genuinely excited to give 2012's Golden Eagle the old taste test...
This combination of 14 ex-bourbon barrels and 7 ex-sherry hogsheads, all filled in 1999 (back when the distillery was only four years old!), has resulted in a release of 6000 bottles. Bottled at 46% Alc., the Golden Eagle is neither colored nor chill-filtered. Available for around £40 a bottle I picked up mine from Robbie's Drams in Ayr (where I'd previously purchased the first three releases). Note: there will be no US release.
Arran, Icons of Arran #4: Golden Eagle, 12 Year Old, 46% ABV
C: Pale gold
N: There's a little of the Arran brine on the cold nose but it quickly warms to soft toffee, melted butter, and rye spice...there's a pleasant bay leaf note, too, with a hint of fennel around the edges. Slight aside: a friend once grew pineapple sage in her garden and I get a little bit of that here, too.
P: Very full, oily mouthfeel with dried pineapple and rye spice up front, ginger and nutmeg in waves, red currants in the background, and finishing on buttered shortbread
F: Moderate with malty/nutty sweetness, woody spice, and buttery creaminess
Overall: Different from the previous three Icons, the Golden Eagle has more spice and creaminess. I'm very sad to see this series come to an end as it's been one of my most favorite series across all of whiskydom. One thing's for sure, though: Arran are now well and truly on the whisky map and this Ayrshire lad couldn't be happier about that!