Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Whisky Review: Arran Sherry Single Cask #391

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.


  1. Jordan, your comments about sherry cask usage reminded me of a conversation I had with Chip Dykstra at the Rum Howler Blog. Chip is very knowledgeable and shared some information with me about cask usage at Glenfarclas and Macallan.

    Here is the link (read the comments):

  2. My oh my - what a flavor profile. This is the best review of an Arran malt I've seen and the first that really inspired lust in me. Great review. Nice depiction of the sherry flavor profile. Sherry is a chameleon. It can mate with whisky and other elements (such as sulfur - as some sherry casks are sulfured to sterilize them before use) with a wide variety of effects. The curry spice of Glendronach versus the walnut toffee ice cream effect of Macallan, for example.

    It would be interesting to really know the differences in barrel management going on in the various sherry bomb expressions.

    1. Thanks, Josh. I'm really curious to find out if any of the other bottles here in Oregon are from a different cask. While not exactly a cheap proposition, I'd be really curious to see how much cask-to-cask variation there is in these whiskies. I also have a bottle of Arran Bourbon Single Cask, so eventually I'll get to compare the two.

  3. Thanks for the sample, Jordan! I enjoyed this one even more than the Bourbon cask #77. I also found the sherry side quite restrained - second/third refill? - which allowed the spirit to come through. I would have guessed it to be older than its 11 years of age, this shows that the sherry cask(s) did a good job at smoothing out the rough edges of the spirit, but without overwhelming it. Very nice notes of bakery and confectioner's sugar, restrained sweetness, full flavor at cask strength. Very satisfying!

    1. This is definitely the more enjoyable of the two. Sherry seems to be a perfect match for Arran's spirit and sort far I've never tried one that really overwhelmed their underlying character. In terms of more readily available whiskies, the new-ish 12 Year CS is in the same ballpark and a bit cheaper than the single casks.

    2. I was surprised to have liked this better, since I'm not big on sherry. They clearly have a very good wood management, similar to Kilchoman - the sherry is very well integrated. In contrast, the Glenmorangie finishes feel like veneer, flavor added rather than intrinsic. At the same time, the Arran profile is modern, not old-school (a la Benromach). As I said, imho Arran as a rule needs to be older than 12, but it's certainly one to look for.

    3. I've yet to try a sherried Arran where their malt didn't shine through, so I'm pretty sure they know it's not in their best interest to cover it up. It also helps that they (almost) never do sherry finishes. The releases are either all sherry casks or mixtures of bourbon and sherry casks.