Is Older Better? Arran 10 vs. 14: Watching a Distiller Grow Up
I recently finished a bottle of Isle of Arran 14, and it got me thinking about all the people who have asked questions along the line of what age is whisky best, or how long spirit can age in cask before aging becomes detrimental to character.
We all know, or should, older isn't necessarily better. Yes, the answers to these kinds of questions have a million variables, with the final opinion coming down to the drinker's likes, dislikes, experience... Simply put, some spirits age better than others, some show better younger than older, and some show better in middle-aged expressions compared to either younger or older expressions.
By the time any of us participating in this forum started drinking single malts (assuming you started in the last 20 years), 98% of the Scotland's malt distilleries were long into their production and had their official bottling age statement(s) fairly well established - whether or not they were available in our local market is another story!
But it struck me that as avid consumers, Arran is offering us a unique opportunity right now: As a new distillery that was started in our drinking-lifetimes (1995), we first started seeing their spirit in 1999 as a 3 yr, and then various cask finishes until 2006 when we first were introduced to their 10 year - their first goal for a permanent age statement expression. Their 10 was given very high marks by various press, critics & writers - of which my tastings tend to agree with. However, the Arran 14 hits me quite differently.
It still maintains outstanding balance on the nose, palate and finish. Yet, to me, the body seems somewhat lighter (more feminine) and the guts aren't there to be a great ager. I really like it, however, but it just isn't as sumptuous as the 10. So, when comparing the 10 and 14, I have the feeling that older age statements to come will still not show as well as the 10. Time may prove me wrong, but this is the exciting part.
For all of us, long before we started drinking whisky there were many in the industry who knew how Macallan, Lagauvulin, Dalmore, Highland Park... age. There wasn't a lot that we could discover that wasn't already known, and our experiences were merely catching up.
Today, it's rare we have the opportunity to discover how a spirit grows up at the same time as do people in the industry. Arran is affording us this opportunity, as is Benromach.
Of course, there are "newer" things coming out of established distillers, the peated whisky out of Jura, for example. Another example would be Macallan releasing their fine oak line; but it's rare we get to see something truly new.
Anyway, thought I'd make this observation about Arran, and ask for other's insights, if you've had both the Arran 10 and 14. Which do you prefer? Do you think their spirit is better younger or older? What are your expectations for older expressions?
For Benromach, compare their Traditional vs. their 10 yr. (though very different cask strategies), as the spirit to me seems built to show well with more age.
The 14 tastes different because they use much more sherry cask in the 14 than in 10. I forget the specific ratio, but was able to taste these side-by-side at a recent Arran tasting put on by their brand ambassador.
On related note, they will be distributing an 18 year expression in the next few years. They anticipate including much more bourbon cask aged whisky in the 18 year expression, which should give it some of that spice that is familiar with 10 year.
All told, Arran is making some really good whiskies, and I cannot wait for the 18 year to be released.
I have a bottle of single cask Arran that is ex sherry butt, 61.6% ABV and only 7 years old, yet is as dark as any whisky I have ever had, and beautifully complex, with spicy sweetness, and contrasting savoury flavours balancing it all out.
All in all, a fabulous whisky for something so young. I only managed to get 2 bottles before it ran out though. :(
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