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If there’s one thing that a whiskey (or whisky) drinker should know, it’s that the journey to having sampled all of “the classics” is a long and seemingly never-ending one. Since my interest in single malt scotch whisky developed a few years ago, that’s the task I’ve essentially been attempting, whether I knew it or not—seek out all of the classic malts, and sample them one by one. But even as I try them on a regular basis, I know there will always be more waiting to be discovered.
There have been a few products that have helped me along on that journey. One of them, I wrote about last November in the form of a lovely little scotch whisky advent calendar from a U.K. company called Drinks by the Dram. At the time, I wrote some capsule reviews of various tiny bottles I’d sampled from the calendar, but in truth, I still have a handful of those little 50 ml samples left. I do, after all, have a lot of other beer and whiskey to review. But from time to time, I’ll crack open one of the remaining little bottles and sample another malt I’ve probably never tried before.
Most of those whiskies, I don’t feel compelled to write anything about, but trying Arran 10 Year Old was an exception to the rule. This one came out of left field and surprised me so pleasantly that I felt I needed to acknowledge it. Because what we have here is one of the best pure value malts available in either Scotland or the U.S., and a uniquely welcoming dram.
The Arran distillery—its products were previously labled as “The Arran Malt” until they were redesigned in 2019—is a unique little company located on the Isle of Arran, in Scotland’s Firth of Clyde. They’re the only official distillery on the island, which was known for its wealth of illegal distillates for centuries, but geographically they fall in a unique place. The Isle of Arran falls into the small bay between the Campbeltown peninsula (itself a classic scotch whisky region ) and the Lowlands scotch whisky region, but belongs to neither. Instead, it’s grouped into the nebulous concept of “The Islands,” which is sometimes considered its own region and sometimes lumped into The Highlands, despite the fact that Arran is nowhere near the Highlands. Likewise, the profile of Arran’s single malts is different from most other Island distilleries, which tend to lean more in the direction of the heavily peated, smoky scotches of the Islay region. Arran’s malts, on the other hand, are sweet and honeyed by comparison. They are decidedly their own thing, which I suppose makes sense—the distillery has only been in operation since 1994, which makes it still practically an infant in the scotch whisky scene.
The flagship products of Arran are the distillery’s non-age-stated Robert Burns single malt, and the core Arran 10 Year, the youngest of its age-stated products. That’s the sample I had, and that’s what we’re reviewing today. It’s bottled at a respectable 92 proof (46% ABV). It’s not entirely clear what kind of barrels this is aged in, but the assumption is that it’s exclusively re-use bourbon casks.
On the nose, Arran 10 Year immediately displays lovely and vivacious notes of citrus and vanilla, backed by warm biscuits. It smells distinctly sweet and fruity, with a very citrus-forward profile, complemented by hints of what are perhaps melon or fresh grass. Smoke and peat are nowhere to be found. It smells casual and inviting.
On the palate, Arran 10 Year is approachable but plenty flavorful, with big, sweet notes of vanilla and juicy orange—the whisky personification of a creamsicle. This is one of the most distinctly citrus-forward drams I’ve had in a while, and I can’t help but find it perfectly charming. It’s quite sweet in terms of residual sugar, but not hard to drink, with much more depth than many of the basic 80 or 86 proofers—you really get the sense that the 92 proof helps lift this one above some of its more direct competition. As the palate develops, I get some additional notes—cocoa on the back end, and a warm maltiness not unlike digestive biscuits with hints of cinnamon and nuttiness. Peat, once again, is not to be found here, but there is a modicum of heat to remind you that this is whisky, rather than dessert.
All in all, the word for Arran 10 Year is “inviting.” This scotch is just extremely easy to like, and easy to enjoy, and I can’t help but think that it would be awesome for introducing many drinkers to single malt whiskies. It’s not super complex, but it is perfectly calculating and captivating, like an expertly crafted 3-minute pop song. Some drinkers might perhaps find it a touch too sweet, but as far as daily drams go, I think this is hard to beat. And at a price point that often seems to hover around the $50 mark, or even below, it’s arguably one of the best pure values in single malt scotch you can find today.
Frankly, it’s hard for me to believe I hadn’t sampled this one before, but it makes me very excited, not only to sample the rest of the Arran lineup but to see just how many other gems are still out there to be discovered. In the meantime, I’ve got to find a bottle of this one, as it will become my go-to “if you’ve never really tried scotch, you should try this” selection.
City: Lochranza, Scotland
Style: Single malt scotch whisky
ABV: 46% (92 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $50-60 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.