Arran's 12 Year Cask Strength line began in 2012, which was designed to compete with other distillery's sherry-driven cask strength whiskies. But unlike most of those, it has an age statement and they have also given information about the types and proportions of casks used to make each batch. Surprisingly, they have also managed to do this while releasing the 12 Year Cask Strength at a comparable or lower price than many of those other NAS whiskies.
Batch #2 was constructed very similarly to Batch #1. 17 first-fill sherry butts and 4 refill sherry hogsheads were combined, then bottled at 53.6% without coloring or chill filtration and released in September 2012 in an outturn of 13,200 bottles.
Arran 12 Year Cask Strength Batch #2
Nose: big sherry influence, rich raisin notes with a savory edge, spicy oak in the background, sweet berries and malt, creamy vanilla. After adding a few drops of water the sherry settles down a bit, some chocolate emerges, the malt and oak come through more clearly, and the raisins become more savory.
Taste: thick, similarly big sherry throughout with baked apples and peppery spiciness behind it, hints of barrel char, somewhat monolithic - not a lot of development. After dilution the sherry settles down a bit and gets sweeter/juicier, a bit of creamy malt shows through, the oak and pepper shift towards the back, and some savory character comes out.
Finish: sherry residue, malt, gentle oak, fresh apples, milk chocolate
While not particularly complex, this hits the important notes for sherry-driven whiskies. It's pretty hot at full strength, but a little water settles it down nicely. But as further dilutions will show, you want to be careful with how much you add.
Batch #2 at 50%
Nose: clean malt, fresh sherry, slightly savory, sulphur/egg/lard, herbal/vegetal
Taste: sweet sherry throughout, a rising tide to oak from the middle bolsters but doesn't overwhelm the sherry, a bump of clean malt near the back
Finish: sherry, bittersweet, oak tannins, cacao nibs
This is a fairly clear extension of the full strength malt, but simplified even further. Most of the heat has been taken out of it, but it hasn't completely collapsed. There's something sulfurous on the nose that could be off-putting, but I don't find it wholly objectionable in a Tobermory-ish fashion. Overall, neither here nor there.
Batch #2 at 45%
Nose: faint and sherry-driven, sour, mild oak, malt in the background but growing with time, slightly herbal/floral, musty
Taste: bittersweet opening trending towards bitter at the back, sherry in the beginning fading into dry grain, floral overtones beginning in the middle, somewhat unpleasant sourness near the end
Finish: slightly off, sour, bitter sherry residue, freeze dried coffee, young malt, dried flowers
It's been my observation that the casks picked for Arran's cask strength releases are selected not just because they work well at full proof but also because they do so poorly when diluted. While the nose retains some appeal at this strength, the palate and finish almost completely fall apart.
This was clearly built to go toe-to-toe with the big sherry monsters from other distilleries. I first tried the Cask Strength at the distillery and found it to be one of the best whiskies in their lineup, even in comparison to older single casks or their Devil's Punchbowl release. While I have mostly retained that impression, I do thing it has a few flaws. Most noticeable is the fact that it starts off really hot. I opened this bottle around Christmas 2015 and it took a number of months to settle down and become more easily drinkable. At this point it's a really solid whisky and something that I would have recommended if it hadn't sold out years ago. But the series has continued and I'll be reviewing Batch #5 soon to see how it has evolved.
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