That’s Amarone

What a week the last 7 days have been for whisky. We saw Glen Garioch announce them returning to direct fire distillation via some pretty cool tech, the second Summerton whisky festival running into technical difficulties but still offering some great content, and another Bimber release that sold out within a timescale that can only be measured by the Hadron collider.

Scientists at CERN are working round the clock to establish the exact timing that Bimber’s latest releases sold out in

As I said in a previous post; people can be fantastic, they can also be not.. The technical issues at Summerton (which were all down to the software provider and distinct lack of tech support) and the sales of Bimber’s latest releases brought out both the best and the worst of some people. In both cases messages and posts were made on the various social media platforms (that have both enhanced human interaction as well as set it back 10,000 years) making their displeasure known via the medium of some pretty derogatory language. Sure, people were disappointed that the festival didn’t go ahead fully, it has now been rearranged for the following weekend, but Dan and Tom – who ran the day got as many presenters and brands on screen as they could to talk all things whisky for a few hours to still provide some content. In the case of Bimber there were cries of injustice such as Klub members sharing discount codes, Founding members feeling aggrieved that bottles were put on general sale, and add in the website struggling due to demand and you have the perfect outlet for what I’ll call FOMOR – FOMO Rage.

We all need to remember that there are real people on the other end of those screens. Whilst the pandemic may have desensitised us to this to some extent given the increased usage of electronic communication, we need to be interacting and treating people in the same way as if we were standing in front of them. We need to be better, together.

Photo courtesy of @wolfdram1 on Twitter. The Summerton Festival chat with heavyweights such as Amy Seton, Colin Hampden-White, Matt McKay and more.

I find it’s incredibly important in today’s whisky scene that whilst yes, there are a myriad of new and exciting limited releases – there also remains a wealth, a myriad, an embarrassment of riches if you will when it comes to general sale core range and independent bottlings. My personal advice? Move on, take a breath, and take joy in what you have and what we can all share.

This brings me on to the Arran distillery. Arran has long been a distillery that I have respected and enjoyed for many years. I loved their older releases with the fresh and fruity 10 and tropical beach 14. Hell, despite the limited content of this blog so far; I actually opened up the site with a review of the new 10yr old so you could argue it’s too soon for another. But I don’t feel that way.

For me Arran is up there when it comes to maintaining a market presence of accessible, affordable and quality single malts that aren’t going to go out of stock at the press of the F5 button, or that will change hands on auction sites for 10x the original value within a week of release. I find this comforting, I find this reassuring, I find this is right for me. 9 times out of 10 I would much rather share in the mutual experience of a general release to a wider community than a more limited and FOMO driven release. Don’t get me wrong there’s still a place for them in the market and on my shelves but I’m making a lesser habit of chasing them down.

Finishing is also a bit of a divided topic in the deeper mines of the whisky community. Finishing is the practice of transferring maturing whisky from a more ‘casual’ cask such as a refill hogshead or ex-bourbon cask, and transferring it into another of a more unique variety for a shorter period of time that will impart an alternative flavour and influence. Think sherry casks, wine casks, beer casks and more. I will be writing another article on this but ultimately what constitutes a finish? Finish is a bit of a fluffy word, 3 months in a cask? 6, 12, 36? There are no written rules about the time that a whisky can sit in the second or third cask for a finishing period.

Arran aren’t new to the concept of finishing. They had released three wine finished whiskies in their old livery that have now thankfully transferred over in to the new. These are the Amarone finish, Sauternes, and Port finished whiskies. All No-Age-Statement but all presented at a higher strength of 50%, are non-chill filtered, and natural colour.. and blimey what a colour the Amarone cask finish is. I find the aesthetics of the new(ish) Arran range really pleasing to the eye and I really like that they went all out with full colour labels on the finished range.

Image courtesy of thewhiskybarrel

I find Arran’s fruity spirit can lend itself really well to wine finishing. Some people aren’t a fan of wine finishes generally but me? They take two of my favourite things and combine them into one neat and tidy serving.

Amarone is a well regarded and quite intense Italian wine produced in North East Italy. Usually of high strengths of 14.5% and upwards into the 15’s and 16’s in some cases. The grapes used (Corvina, Rondinella and others) are harvested in early October and left to dry. By drying the grapes, the desiccation both concentrates the flavours of the grapes but also helps add tannin’s to the final finish, giving the wine further structure. The wine also spends a minmum of 2 years in casks, hence in part the availability here to put whisky in them. The core flavours tend to be quite robust with a good strong body, earthy with berries and oak/vanilla.

Arran Amarone Cask Finish – Natural Colour – Non Chill Filtered – RRP £44.99

The pink/red hue in the glass really is striking, it couldn’t stand prouder and gives you an early indication of what’s in store. No colouring needed here.

On the nose there are sliced strawberries coated in black pepper and a bit of sea salt (try it honestly). Red liquorice, more strawberry but in lace form now, warm pain au chocolat and honey. A little longer in the glass I get a load of warm, fresh Danish pastries. There’s a slight nip to the nose also but you still wouldn’t think that this was a 50% whisky.

The palate is both typically Arran and typically not.. Initially I get some of the traditional Arran fruit and maltiness with more black pepper, honey and spice but then the wine influence hits home and changes things up. Dried cranberries and macadamia nut mix precedes bitter dark chocolate and pomegranate before heading into a long and sweet finish, led by that chocolate and tart pomegranate.

For me this whisky does a lot of things and it does them well. I like how rather than become overbearing, which and Amarone cask could easily have done, it works in harmony with Arran’s fruity distillate.

This is a great example of a well matched and well timed finish and at a great price too. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a whisky at this level of presentation, strength and enjoyment for the money.

Score: Very Good

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram comes from British all female trio Girl Ray. For me this works perfectly with this dram, where the Amarone is in perfect harmony with the spirit, here the melody, backing beat and vocals work perfectly in harmony with each other. Show me more has to be my favourite track from this outfit to date. A real foot tapper with a melody that will let you ride the wave from start to finish.

Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
Good 
– I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
Solid 
– No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
Fine 
– There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
Meh
 – Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear 
– Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop
 – Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt.

Four More Tiers.

This is why I didn’t start a written blog previously.

What you lot can’t see is that I’ve been sat here for 1 hour and 13 minutes watching the cursor flash on and off like the seemingly not-so-weatherproof outdoor LED Xmas lights on next door’s garage.

This blog is here not to replace my YouTube channel, but to work alongside it. If it was up to me, which come to think of it it is, I’d be sat there for hours at a time on the videos because for me, as with many others in the ever expanding whisky scene, whisky isn’t just a liquid, it’s a seemingly endless conversation. Cliche one out of the way but such is life. I also realise this will now likely be the 53,462nd whisky blog in existence at the moment. I want to try and do on here what I don’t or can’t on my channel, like music pairings (except you jazz), opinion pieces and food pairings. Also it will give me the opportunity to think about what I say a little bit more before it comes out of my mouth which isn’t something I tend to do in-front of the camera.

Right then, there are four numbers that will strike fear in to the heart of anyone that reads them; 2 0 2 0. Fear not, I’m not going to sit here and furiously type away as to how bad it has been through various prose and mediums. Unless you’ve been living in the sewers with four pizza eating, martial art practicing reptiles and a suspiciously well dressed rat, we all know that. What I didn’t know until now is how much whisky influences my life on a day to day basis.

I don’t work in the whisky or drinks industry. I work in an industry in which numbers, and the ability to assess risk are king. Like any job, it can be stressful and it can also be rewarding. Either way, whisky is a solid way to temporarily escape. I set up my first blog back in 2011 as the not particularly catchy ‘Affordable Whisky Reviews Blog’, the fact that’s almost a decade ago is frankly terrifying. This targeted bottles under £50 because at the time that’s what my budget allowed. Malt Box came into being as a YouTube channel in 2015 before I took a two year break in the middle because, to be honest, I fell out of love with whisky for a while. There, I said it. My job at the time was becoming increasingly stressful and I was drinking it for drinking’s sake, and woke up with a sore head on several school days. I still don’t think we talk enough about that in whisky. I tried to scrutinize, to taste, to envelop myself into the experience but ultimately it was just something I had a sizable amount of in the house, a commodity of convenience. I restarted the vlog in 2018 alongside a much more sensible approach to week-day consumption.

What I’ve found over the last nine months has solidified that calling to return. This year has made it abundantly clear as to how truly important whisky is to me. When I say whisky, I’m not just talking about the rows of glass bottles with their varying hues glistening under the spotlights in my basement like a disturbing urine sample cache in the lab of an NHS teaching hospital.

I’m also talking about people. People can be absolutely fantastic. Saying that they can also be absolutely not. I think I’ve seen plenty from both camps this year with many examples of civil and agreeable debate, down to outright name calling and the social media equivalent of pulling someone’s hair at break time when teacher isn’t looking.

I’m generally something of an extrovert. My wonderful wife isn’t which in a way is why I think we work so well together. To retain some form of extroverty sanity however (and you’ll discover the irony in that statement after the close bracket) I’ve become a serial Twitterist. I may not post too often but thanks to the various Social Media companies’ and their penchant for abusing human habits such as muscle memory, I find myself checking my Twitter feed on an alarming basis. On the plus side what that has led to is me taking in more content from fellow bloggers and distilleries than I ever have before.

One way that I’ve managed to do this is by being a fully fledged member of the Whisky Circus, if you know you know. If you don’t then congratulations, you’re probably not in danger of being sectioned any time soon. Sorren Krebs, ringmaster, fellow blogger and plough pulling deviant, has single-handedly organised what is probably some of the best content in the whiskyverse right now. Organised Zoom calls with distillers, reps, writers, historians and regular tavern nights mean that I’ve met and interacted with more people than I thought possible. There’s been exclusive bottles to boot. Would this have happened if it wasn’t for the current pandemic? Doubtful, but entirely possible and a testament to every cloud having a silver lining. I live in North West England, I know a bit about clouds.

There are so many out there putting out some fantastic content. Others I once respected and read/watched, not so much.

As I write this, I’m drinking a whisky from a distillery that’s close to my heart, the Arran 10yr Old. Those that know me may know why, but whilst I’ve reviewed the previous iteration on the channel, I’ve not given the newer bottling released in 2019 any air-time so far. This bottling carries a higher proportion of sherry casks than the previous release so the distillery did really change this from the ground up along with the branding. Which by the way I feel is one of the more successful re-brands of the last few years.

Arran 10yr Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 46% – NCF – Natural Colour

Image Courtesy of Oddbins

On the nose there’s lots of honey, black pepper, a touch of tropical fruit but where the previous iteration was like licking the Caribbean, this is a fleeting sniff of an under ripe mango at the greengrocer. Possibly some pistachio gelato in there too but is that a step to far? Do I care if it is? Probably not.

On the palate the mouthfeel is lovely, and you’re greeted with an initial warmth. There’s more of that honey up front but we’re talking solid honey. Then cinder toffee and good quality milk chocolate. A bit like if Waitrose did an own brand Crunchie, we don’t really get Waitrose around here.. maybe that comes as part of the Northern Powerhouse package eventually?

Heading in to the finish the sweetness continues but there’s a touch of warmth from that black pepper coming through from the nose and a delicious salinity too.

Overall this is a lovely dram and well worth the circa £38 RRP. Sure, it’s not the same as the older bottling that I also enjoyed, but it’s a great whisky in it’s own right and we can’t get too stuck in the past. If the current situation has taught us anything its to enjoy what we can now and to look ahead.

Score: Very Good

Fancy some tunes? My Malt Music for this dram comes from New Jersey based quintet Real Estate. The song; Paper Cup, comes from their latest album and brings those soft and flightly guitars alongside a bit of a surf rock vibe that they’ve become synonymous with:

Thanks to all of you who have weathered the storm to this part of the seemingly endless novel. Whilst articles may not always be particularly regular, they will come.

Andy.

Scoring Scale:

Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
Good
– I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
Solid
– No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
Fine
– There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
Meh
– Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear
– Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop
– Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt.