This is another whisky from the Isle of Arran distillery. While the previous offerings I reviewed were standard age dated bottlings of whisky from both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, this one is a single cask whisky aged exclusively in an ex-sherry cask. My bottle comes from cask #391 which was distilled on 3/19/97 and bottled on 6/16/08 at its full cask strength of 55.4% ABV. Though I was able to get in touch with the distillery, they weren't able to tell me whether this one came from a first fill or refill sherry cask. Sadly it seems that the info got lost somewhere in the intervening years. Given that it was distilled only a couple of years after they opened their doors, I can't begrudge them a few slip ups.
Arran Sherry Single Cask #391
Nose: big milk chocolate, Oloroso sherry, raisins, brown sugar, maple syrup, rum, chili pepper, malt, floral perfume, a healthy slug of vanilla. After adding a bit of water it becomes maltier and more bourbon-like with a hint of cinnamon
Taste: honey, brown sugar and sweet milk chocolate tinged with chili pepper up front, which becomes drier and slightly more bitter chocolate with sherry mid-palate, leading into a huge explosion of chili pepper
Finish: sweet chili pepper, malt, sherry, and bittersweet chocolate
As I mentioned above, I wasn't able to find out definitively whether this was from a first fill or a refill cask, but my guess is that it was a refill, maybe even third fill, cask. The nose reminds me a bit of Aberlour's double cask whisky, both in terms of the malty floral perfume notes in the nose and, more importantly, in that the sherry is a obvious presence, but doesn't overwhelm the whisky. This is still distinctively Arran.
The flavors in this whisky are simply immense. Everything is cranked up to 11. While definitely a sweet whisky, the explosion of pepper near the back of the mouth keeps it from being unidimensional and reminds me a lot of Mayan mousse (chili pepper dusted chocolate). The chili pepper flavor actually confused me initially because it was so strong that I thought it was just the high-proof of the spirit coming through and burning my mouth. Not a bit of it, as this whisky is actually shockingly smooth for all its burley character.
This whisky is an interesting contrast to some of the Speyside cask strength sherry bombs I've had before. As I mentioned above, the sherry influence on this Arran is less in your face. My guess is that the Speysiders contain a significant amount of whisky that is aged in first-fill ex-sherry casks, which means that the sherry influence on those whiskies is much more assertive. This makes me interested in trying Arran's Premium Sherry Cask whisky, which is aged in first-fill casks, for some good ol' compare and contrast.
I would highly encourage you to seek out Arran Sherry Single Cask. As single barrel releases, they're obviously going to vary from cask to cask, so the smells and flavors might not be exactly the same as what I reported above. Additionally, they were all limited release and are getting a bit tricky to find, but are well worth it if you can put your hands on a bottle.