Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Whisky Tasting: Arran Premium Bourbon Cask, Campbell's Cask, Premium Sherry Cask & Devil's Punchbowl II

Because I didn't feel up to a second tasting after the first I did at the distillery, I came back the next morning for another round. This time I picked the cask strength flight, which has some of the distillery's  top-end expressions.

Arran Premium Bourbon Cask

Nose: creamy malt, ethereal fruit/berries, toasted oak, caramel, bubblegum, fresh soap, violets/floral, a bit of wood smoke/char, light mint/vegetation. After adding a few drops of water, more bubblegum/cotton candy came out, creamy oats/malt, and a hint of orange, floral fruit (almost like sherry), and more toasted oak.

Taste: piercing sweetness up front - fading gently towards the back, burnt sugar, ethereal strawberry/raspberry, light bourbon barrel notes (vanilla, caramel, oak) at the back, light orange throughout. After dilution, rich caramel sweetness throughout, orange notes tuck inside the caramel, light oak (barely bitter at all), very creamy, honey.

Finish: malt, bourbon barrel, toasted oak, orange

This one was definitely a sweetie. Which actually didn't work for me too well because there wasn't enough else going on to provide balance. However, I know tastes differ, so if you like them sweet this might be a good pick. However, I'm not sure it's worth the premium over the standard Bourbon Single Cask, which, while younger, often aren't all that much less complex.

Arran Campbell's Cask

Nose: strong coconut, vanilla, underlying caramel, light toasted oak, strawberry. After adding a few drops of water, the coconut becomes more toasted and syncs up with the oak, nutty, rich caramel, malty.

Taste: piercing sucrose/caramel sweetness, fades into toasted oak and cacao, orange throughout. After dilution, the sucrose gives way to the caramel, coconut comes out in the middle, something vegetal at the back alongside a mix of baking spices and pepper.

Finish: toasted oak, lingering caramel/malt sweetness

This is an ex-bourbon cask selected by Campbell Laing, the distillery's senior tour guide and former Glasgow policeman. While it shares many similarities with the Premium Bourbon Cask, I would pick this one over it. The coconut is a really nice addition and the palate seemed more balanced, especially with water. Sadly it is already sold out, but you might still be able to give it a try at the distillery. If not, there is a new staff pick from Kate Hartley, the distillery cafe's manager.

Arran Premium Sherry Cask

Nose: sherried but not aggressively so, strong strawberry notes, cotton candy, lightly floral, malty, burnt sugar. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes darker and less noticeably sherried, with stewed fruits entwined with malt and chocolate, plus more oak and some fresh plum.

Taste: creamy sweetness under a light layer of sherry, fading into bittersweet malt. After dilution, it became creamier with more integrated sherry, light fruit/berry notes, a little vegetation at the back, bubblegum/cotton candy throughout, and some pepper and baking spices at the back alongside the oak.

Finish: light oak, bittersweet sherry, a bit ethereal/floral

Once again, this was a big sweetie, though in this case water actually helped to reign that in. I really enjoyed the nose, but felt like the palate didn't quite live up to its promise. Also, I can't say that it's a sufficient improvement over the younger Sherry Single Cask I tried to make me want to pony up the extra cash (especially since the Sherry Single Casks have been dead cheap around here). With that said, I would happily take this one over the Premium Bourbon Cask - the sherry adds complexity that the bourbon couldn't bring.

Arran Devil's Punchbowl II

Nose: baked bread, very mild peat notes (just an accent), bourbon barrel (vanilla, caramel, oak), fresh malt, a little vegetal. After adding a few drops of water, it became more malt-focused with a hint of sherry, the peat integrated and retreated, it became more vegetal with stronger oak, and some sweet berries came out.

Taste: sweet malt entwined with a thread of peat smoke over a thin layer of sherry, medium oak and malt growing towards the back. After dilution, it becomes sweet and moderately oaky throughout, with more noticeable sherry, the peat lurks at the back, and it becomes peppery from the mid-palate to the end.

Finish: mild peat, malt, bourbon barrel notes, a hint of stewed fruit/sherry

While I liked the concept of the Devil's Punchbowl - a combination of older bourbon and sherry casks with younger peated whisky - the quality of Arran's peat keeps rubbing me the wrong way. I'd love a blended malt with Arran's unpeated whisky combined with something smoky, but I think I'd have to try making it at home to find something that will click with me. This one has gotten rave reviews, so clearly some people love it, but I would definitely file it under 'try before you by', especially at the price point.

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