Euan brings news (and whisky) from Isle of Arran!

Our dedicated co-editor and field reporter, Euan, visited Isle of Arran distillery (once again) and brought us a handful of news, tips and opinions:


Isle of Arran distillery

So as I found myself on the Isle of Arran once again (every year since my entrance into the world) I thought I would head on up to the distillery. Now I have been a couple of times in the past, but not since the glorious emergence of Edinburgh Whisky Blog. So I offered to write a small piece for Chris and Lucas and give them something to throw at the whisky-hungry masses ie. you lot.

The setting for the distillery could hardly be more perfect. The small village of Lochranza sits on the North coast of Arran, with the distillery itself nestled below a jutting crag which is home to a pair of Golden Eagles which appear on the logo of the distillery. It was opened in 1995, which brings to us to a strange little identity crisis the distillery seems to suffer. Despite their young age, great emphasis is placed on the history of the distillery with particular reference to the illicit whisky that was once made in great abundance on Arran. I don’t really understand why they distillers feel the need to do this – can’t they just be happy with constructing a wonderful distillery and visitor centre? Because that is exactly what they have done.

Upon entering the distillery, one is instantly struck by the display of barley and water which highlight the importance of both ingredients to the whisky. Tours get started every hour, so there is potential for a longish wait. Thankfully, there is an ideal solution. The Eagles Nest Cafe occupies the top floor of the distillery and serves a pretty good cup of coffee plus a decent range of food. Baked potato with Arran haggis? Yes please! Our tour was on a Sunday afternoon, so things were fairly quiet. We were guided by Campbell, resplendent in full kilt, who gave a performance which was well polished without being slick. As most of us know, the guide makes the tour and Campbell was a pleasure to be with. The distillery was obviously designed to be tour-friendly, which gives it an advantage over some of the older, sprawling distilleries.

The heart of the distillery consists of a single room with (and I’m going by memory here, didn’t want to distract Campbell by taking notes like a twat) the sole mash tun, four Oregon pine washbacks and the pair of stills. This compact lay-out let our guide take us through the process clearly and concisely. Obviously I didn’t learn too much about whisky making, but a distillery tour always turns up a few interesting facts. The Arran distillery boasts a revolutionary new bonded warehouse which uses a specially designed forklift to access casks which can be stacked up to nine high. However, most of Arran’s casks spend their time at Bladnoch, chosen to mirror Lochranza’s environment. The distillery has strong links with the community, sponsoring the islands rugby team and selling the draff and pot ale straight to local farmers. Whilst all of the distillery’s barley is currently coming in from Speyside, an island farmer is currently attempting to cultivate a crop with an appropriate nitrate content which will allow it to be used to make some small batches of whisky.

The actual tour takes around thirty minutes after which it’s time to retire to the tasting bar. Every visitor gets a dram of the 10 year old single malt plus a taste of Arran Gold (a whisky based cream liqueur). There should be a tasting coming up on these hallowed pages so I won’t go into detail about the whiskies here. There is great opportunity to taste further whiskies at no extra cost. The full rainbow range of Arran finishes are available, plus their single casks and blends. I was lucky enough to get to chat with Campbell at the end, and gained a good idea of the plans for Isle of Arran’s future. The cask finishes are being scaled back (more into line with Glenmorangie’s range – a port, sherry and cognac finish were all mentioned), the twelve year old will disappear in a year to be replaced with a fourteen year old (which will form a permanent part of their range) and a slightly older peated expression will appear soon – their five year old is now sold out (even at a hefty £55 price tag).

I’ve gone on for a while now, I’ll quickly mention the shop – obviously packing the full range of Arran whiskies plus associated glassware and souvenirs. There were some nice special offers on, the best being a bottle of the fino sherry finish and two branded glencairn glasses for £30. I should say that if you are fortunate enough to find yourself on Arran, pick up one of the leaflets “Arran – the island”. They are available on the ferry, and get you 2-for-1 entry to the distillery. Don’t saw that EWB never give you top tips!

Hopefully soon to appear – the EWB powers that be put their heads together to taste Isle of Arran 10 year old, 12 year old and the Pinot Noir finish. Next for me? The Caithness Highland Games, Wick Gala Night and Pulteney distillery. It’s a hard life.


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