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Pardon the awful pun in the title of this review (just be glad I didn’t go with “I’ve got a Hank Arran for this stuff!”), but it sums up many of the elements I find in this excellent dram. Loaded with grassy textures (earth), peppery spices (fire), summery lightness (air), and coastal freshness (water), Arran 14 year old ranks alongside Highland Park as a fine, if sweeter, all-rounder. It’s light but complex, so it lends itself to both casual and thoughtful sipping.
Nose: One of the more ever-evolving noses I’ve experienced. Each hearty whiff reveals something new, just as pleasant as what came before. Malt, apples, and pears emerge at first, along with some grainy textures – I might have guessed this was a blend if nosing it blind, but the grain soon vanishes. A fruit bouquet then emerges, dominated by canned cling peaches. Traces of peat here and there. A couple of drops of water and a 10-minute sit reveal honey, vanilla, caramel, and a hint of Junior Mint candies. Finally, the earthy elements – grass, wood, flowers – arrive and add a full-rounded depth. Yet for all its complexity, there’s an easy mildness to it all. I don’t know that I’ve ever nosed a whisky so simultaneously light and layered.
Palate: A slight letdown after the promise suggested by the nose. It’s pleasant, but some salt and tannins have rudely crashed the fruit-and-spice party. Tastes like it so desperately wants to be sweet and smooth, but the acid and tartness just won’t get out of the way. The good qualities win in the end, but it was a struggle.
The finish is superb and nearly redeems all negative elements. It’s fresh and light, yet long-lasting and loaded with as many elements as on the nose: brine, cinnamon, pepper, malt, berry fruits, shortbread cookies, and a brief return of the peat.
The overall experience may sag a bit in the middle, but you couldn’t ask for a better beginning and ending. The thoughtfulness in creating Arran 14 shines through, although don’t ask me to explain and interpret the confusing and conflicting information I encountered while researching it. (Suffice to say that American bourbon and European sherry casks were used to good effect.) Despite its minor shortcomings, I can’t imagine a malt lover not appreciating such a unique combination of layers and lightness. It’s been called a summertime dram, but it tastes pretty good on this snowy February evening.