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I'll do something a little bit different here, but only since I'm sure this may be the most important review ever posted. Of course, I'd love to hear comments about its significance! Anyway, due to the large audience I'm sure this will attract, I'll use a different style than my usual posts.
This review is for an independently bottled (IB) malt, and of a very limited edition-- In fact, you can't even buy a full bottle any more from Master of Malt. So whereas you might spend most of your time on Connosr reading reviews that will actually help you with a purchase... how often do you get the chance to read a review that will give you almost NO information for your next purchase? Don't miss this opportunity!
Anyone browsing the message boards recently knows that I have questioned the role of independent bottlings: How do people discover and select them? But this was a completely wrong question, of course. We should ask, how do people NOT select them? With so few reviews of IBs available, to help people make reasoned purchases, how could the lack of information NOT impassion people enough to make a wild random choice?
You might also ask, why bother writing a review with such narrow and short-term applicability? Again, wrong question! We should all be writing reviews for malts that nobody will ever get to taste again in the future. After all, what a better way to brag online: we have tasted it and YOU have not! Hahaha!!
This malt is an EXcellent example: I've tasted and reviewed it..., and now it doesn't exist anymore! No, I don't just mean it's tough-to-find: my notes were actually outdated almost BEFORE I obtained the sample. How's that for scarcity? Suck it! And I get to add one more review to my tally.
Unfortunately, I have to admit that this gloating was not my intention: I ended up with the opportunity to review this bottle completely by accident. I was ordering samples on MoM, and while looking for Arran's official bottling of their 16yo, I carelessly ordered this one. Maybe if the mood strikes me to review something that would actually help readers, I will still get the intended sample. Anyway, I mention this happenstance, because it highlights the wonderful difficulty of navigating the terrain of whiskies. I mean, how much fun would it really be for us unsuspecting novices out here, if we could always get what we wanted without confusion? Who wants to get something that they expect? You've got to live a little.
Luckily, it is not just really difficult to find bottles, but also confusing to read reviews. We think we're reading about an official bottling... "Really? The Port Charlotte tastes like THAT?" and then realize the review is for an independent bottling. Great fun! More text to read, and how much more satisfying to feel like you nearly need a higher degree to find your way around.
Anyway, having accidentally ordered a dram of very limited availability, I first made tasting notes (just by habit), and then I contemplated just how useful they could be for a posting... I nearly chose to deprive readers of this experience, but then coincidence struck: the very next day after sampling and taking notes, another review was posted of the exactly same malt! What are the chances? (Actually, higher than I thought, since MoM apparently included it in their Advent calendar without my knowing. I ordered this 4 months prior.) Well, if someone else was going to do the good service of informing people about what they can't have, I just couldn't let myself pass up the opportunity. Our descriptions are even a little different, which might have a way of rubbing it in a bit more...
So while making little rants is pretty uncharacteristic of me, I thought there was added value in describing how this review got here. Of course, if someone actually does find this useful, please don't tell me. I'm happier just thinking that you're suffering from missing out on an experience that I've had. If reviews of obscure bottles turned out to give you some other satisfaction, well, that might just ruin it all for me.
Anyway, on to the actual review.
This was quite unlike other Arran's that I've had. A significant reason for this was, of course, the higher ABV. I venture that you would like this malt if you like "big flavors"-- but the nose and finish are lacking so you really need to be "big flavors" guy, and not "extended sensations" guy. But also, the "usual" Arran notes (that I was accustomed to) were not here. I've come to expect "lighter fruits, grassiness, and butter". This one is in different territory! I call this Black Gumdrop Splash.
First vapor: Varnish or shoe polish.
Nose: Apple & sour cherry tart, with charred honey glaze and a dusting of cinnamon. Becomes walnuts in oaky salty toffee, with hinted lime. Seems to weaken with time, unfortunately, but it was fresh while it lasted.
Palate: Sweet and sour entrance, like citric honey-butter, oversized. Progresses to the main theme... of sweet black liquorice and clove, enhanced by honey and a little salt. Quite strong flavors = quite fun! This main theme rather reminds me of (less sweet) gumdrops-- or rather spice drops. Specifically the orange and black kinds (clove and liquorice). What is so nice here is that these gumdrops are big and juicy-- probably because the slight saltiness and ABV induce saliva enough to give a superb & explosive liquid sensation.
Finish: Remaining clove and honey, with walnut toffee and drying nutmeg. Eventually white pepper.
The appeal here is all about the palate's interplay of honey-sweetness with the more 'chemical' tones (liquorice, clove). And it is quite enjoyable! Mind you, liquorice is not my favorite flavor, so if you do like it, then you might like this malt even more. Unfortunately, the finish lacks, drying out to bitterness too soon. The nose is okay..., but it just does not beckon. If the nose and finish were anywhere as good as the palate, this would rate in the 90s for sure. For most of you out there, this would probably be an 89.
I have a hard time picking similar malts. It is not peated, but the chemical liquorice reminds me of other peated malts, especially the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. The Bowmore 12 has similar palate characteristics, but the Arran is smoother and much richer. Glenmorangie's Lasanta is also not peated but somehow gives impressions of peat and liquorice; it is different but perhaps not so far from this Arran.
In any case, I cannot compare this to any other Arran I have tried (Original, 10, and 14), which are all lighter and of different character.
So there you go. Will you actually use any of this information? I'm curious. Sadly for you, as I mentioned you can't use my review to decide on getting a bottle... well actually you could, in principle, still order 3cl samples of this malt today. I suppose ordering 25 samples should equal a full bottle-- go for it! Supplies should then last about 1 more customer or so.
Is there any other usefulness of a review, such as this, for IBs that you can never obtain? Maybe you find it interesting to discover (as I have) that there can be an IB with flavors that radically depart from "usual" Arran flavors. Maybe you find it interesting that an IB can rate highly for a fairly low price (62 Euros). Maybe you find it interesting how reviewers' descriptions can vary even for the same cask. But I think most IB fans know all these things already. Maybe this improves your view of MoM as a bottler, or your view of Arran as a distiller. Maybe you just get your kicks by reading random review descriptions. I don't know-- but hopefully you do!