Three drams of Arran Malt, sent to 20 panel members, all to be tasted completely blind, in a quest to choose which one will become the second “White Stag” release. This will be a single cask bottling of Arran whisky, exclusive for the members of the (free!) White Stag club. I was chosen as one of the panellists and now face the hard task of choosing my preferred sample. All drams were tasted on the same evening at the same time – first the nose of all three drams, then palate and finish afterwards. Hey, you’re here for the whisky, so let’s get going!
Info: Single Sherry Butt No. 96/1320 filled on 17th September 1996. 54.5% abv. 3 votes overall
Colour: copper gold
The nose opens on what I love about Arran. Perfect dram to start with! Light fruits (red apples, sweet pears), orange juice, orange peel, the signature is there. It’s also getting a bit tropical with mango and sweet pineapple. Progressing into darker berries with a slightly bitter note of cracked berry seeds on light, fragrant oak. Delicate, yet with a substance in the background provided by the cask. The palate is slightly nippy on the arrival (no ABV indicated), maintaining the light-ish (yet mouth-coating) profile. A mixture of red and green apples, pear juice, mango, somewhat unripe pineapple, fizzy orange, drying cask spices and an oaky touch in the background. I expect this to be fairly old, 15+ years. With water: Same general profile, more on the fruity and (slight) spicy side. The long finish is slightly nippy (rather: zesty) upon swallowing, followed by creamy fruity notes (apples, pears, grapes) with barley water and drying spices with oak at the end.
A somewhat light, yet characterful, fruity, aged Arran malt, preserving the distillery character, especially on the nose. The palate trails behind the nose ever so slightly but is still very enjoyable. Like!
(Nose: 89 Palate: 86 Finish: 86)
Sample 2 – winner!
Info: Single Sherry Butt No. 96/1335 filled on 23rd September 1996. 50.4% abv. 12 votes overall
The nose right after pouring had a hint of citrus soap, but it was gone by the time I got to the glass. Ah yes, first fill sherry, quite a bit more force, fruit and sweetness than the first one. A classic, heavily sherried dram, I’m leaning towards European oak, but I am missing the Arran signature a little bit (not a bad thing per se, but shouldn’t a white stag bottling show the distillery character?). Dark raisins and dried figs, dried mango, dried orange peel, dextrose, dark milk chocolate, slightly burnt toffee cloves and a cinnamon stick. Rich, dark, spicy. The palate is also slightly nippy on the arrival (again, no ABV is given), getting mellower and mouth-coating after a bit. Spices and dark fruits appear up front, but in a tight mixture. A puree of dried raisins, figs, plums and orange peel albeit a bit on the sugar-reduced side, even slightly dry. More fruity than sweet! The spices are also more of a spice mixture of cloves, cinnamon and a dash of aniseed. With water: The alcoholic tingle is gone and the profile is a bit lighter with more (orange) zest. The long finish is also slightly nippy on swallowing, on the dry side with dried fruits (again, not really sweet, more on the fruity side), a pinch of zest and spices and the tiniest hint of sulphur (which I don’t mind at all).
A dry(ish), spicy, fruity but not too sweet heavily sherried dram. Very different from the first one. This one is for the lovers of bolder, heavier malts (and I’ve got a gut feeling it’s going to win), even though it tends to hide the distillery character. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is up to your own perspective. Two points less than sample number 1 for me, but still a strong dram, especially for the sherryheads.
(Nose: 87 Palate: 85 Finish: 84)
Info: Single Sherry Butt No. 96/942 filled on 8th August 1996. 51.1% abv. 6 votes overall
Colour: copper gold (a bit darker than #1)
The nose is quite different from the first two drams. But what is it? Wine maturation? Wine finish? I’m not a big wine drinker so I’m not even going to try and guess. Okay, I’m going to say Sauternes so the girls and guys at the distillery can have a good laugh. Dextrose sweetness, grape juice, mango, strawberry yoghurt and a pinch of cake spices….? Quite closed down. A very pleasant mixture, but a bit undecided on what it actually wants to be. The palate is a great match to the nose. Slightly nippy, again, but full-flavoured and the sweetest of the three drams! Grape juice, dextrose, mango, zest, hubba bubba (what?), strawberries, gooseberries. A drop of Irn Bru (how many have you had tonight, Klaus?) and a pinch of spices. Hmm… somewhat weird, but in a good way – this is growing on me, despite being such a tight mixture of aromas. Not sure it needs water, but we tried all the others with a splash, so here goes. More zesty, a hint of oak shining through, but it was definitely more integrated, sweeter and tighter without water. The medium-long finish is zesty and nippy upon swallowing, but immediately getting creamier and oilier with a grape- and light fruit sweetness (with dextrose) as it glides down the throat. An ever so slight hint of oak at the end.
Now that’s an oddball dram, very grape-ey. I’ll eat my hat if that’s not a wine maturation/finish. Probably the youngest of the three and it took quite a bit of time to grow on me, but as unconventional as it is, it’s refreshingly different
(Nose: 84 Palate: 85 Finish: 84)
Three drams from the Isle of Arran distillery – as different as they could be. A bourbon (? or refill American oak Sherry) cask, a first-fill sherry cask and a wine cask. At least that’s what my senses tell me, we’re flying completely blind here. And my winner is…. well… let me pour a wee bit more of the first two drams! Yes, yes, yes, I’ll follow my scores here – my winner is sample number 1. To me, it offers the best combination of distillery character, cask influence and time (exhibited in perfectly integrated oaky flavours), but it’s a tough call against sample #2, which I’ve got a gut feeling will win overall. Sample #3 is just a bit too different for me to consider it as a white stag bottling representing the distillery style. It did grow on me though and it might well be suitable for another type of bottling!
Thanks a bunch to Jaclyn and the Arran distillery team for offering me the chance to take part in this panel, much appreciated! The results are published on Wednesday, 8th of June at 7pm BST – make sure to follow the hashtag #ArranWhiteStag ! Bottles will be available to buy exclusively for club members at a later date.
Post updated on the 8th of June 2016: Included final results