When you think of top Scottish distilleries you assume them to be hundreds of years old with opening dates pre-dating your great grandparents. While that may be the case with some of the greats it's not true for all the greats, for example the Arran distillery opened in 1995, predating the Spice Girls by a few months. Situated of the west coast of Scotland about 60km south-west of Glasgow, still independently run Arran distillery is recognised world-wide as a top Scotch distillery and a strong representative of the 'Islands' region of Scotland.
While the Arran distillery is relatively young the history of distilling on the island of Arran is no stranger to whisky. In the late 1700's early 1800's the island was known to have around 50 operating distilleries, all of which turned to illicit stills and then eventually discontinued by the time 1840 came around. The island is home to Loch Na Davie which is thought to be the source of Scotland's purest water, as such it seems a waste to not distill whisky here, this is why Chivas Brothers MD Harold Currie led a consortium to open a brand new distillery. Starting construction in 1994 the project took roughly a year to complete, hindered mildly by two nesting eagles explaining the two silhouetted eagles found on the bottle. Situated on the north of the island in the small town of Lochranza, this was because of the good water supply and ease of access to tourists wishing to visit the distillery, massively aiding the funding and publicity of the island and distillery. In 1998 Arran released a limited edition 3 year old bottling to mark the first legal whisky produced on the island in 160 years. This limited release now fetches a price just shy of £600. Ever since the Arran single malts have been eagerly monitored by enthusiasts.
The quality of the water is put down to the rigorous natural filtration through layers of red granite and peat from the mountains of the island down into Loch Na Davie. The island benefits from a warm microclimate provided by sea breezes, clear mountain air and a warm air flow from the Gulf stream, this ensures optimal conditions for ageing whisky. Using only Scottish barley the methods employed by the team at Arran are very traditional. For 46 weeks of the year Arran do not peat their malts, for the rest they will peat their malts to use for the Machrie Moor expression. Using large wooden wash-backs made from Oregon pine, the wort undergoes a long fermentation to insure a fuller body. This is then double distilled in tall copper stills to extract the finer flavours of the spirit. Arran then use a wide array of casks to age and rest their spirit from traditional ex-Bourbon and sherry casks to casks which have previously held Amarone, Sauternes and Port, the colour you see in the bottles come purely from the casks, no colouring is added to the whiskies. Chill-filtration is not used in order to retain the molecules and proteins that naturally occur in the distillation and maturation process, this creates a fuller, oilier mouthfeel, as such the whiskies are typically bottled at 46% or above.