Gie him strong Drink until he wink,
That’s sinking in despair;
An’ liquor guid to fie his bluid,
That’s prest wi’ grief an’ care;
O Whisky! soul o’ plays an’ pranks!
Accept a Bardie’s gratefu’ thanks!
When wanting thee, what tuneless cranks
Are my poor Verses!
.from “Scotch Drink” by Robert Burns (1759-1796)
Scotland’s national bard clearly had a great deal of respect for Scotland’s national drink.
And if you were ever in any doubt as to the importance of whisky to the Scots or whiskey to the Irish, then the fact that we both describe it as Uisce Beatha – or the Water of Life – would leave you in no doubt. So much so that, on my recent travels to Scotland’s Isle of Arran, I fully imagined it to be a breach of some law to depart the island without having at least a wee dram of the “Scotch drink”. A visit to the Isle of Arran Distillers, the only (legal) producer of whisky on the island, turns out to have been a very good choice, and not just because of its Irish connections.
Gordon Mitchell, their now retired distillery manager, previously worked at Ireland’s Cooley Distillery and was involved in the development of their most excellent Connemara Peated Single Malt. While Connemara is unusual for an Irish whiskey in that it is peated, the signature 10 year old single malt produced by Isle of Arran Distillers is unusual for a Scotch whisky in that it is not.
But that is not the only thing worthy of note.
At just 15 years old, Isle of Arran is one of Scotland’s newest and smallest distilleries. Yet it has already made its mark with a clutch of national and international awards to its credit, notably for the 10 year old single malt and their Arran Gold cream liqueur.
Founded by Harold Currie, a former director of Chivas, it is sited at picturesque Lochranza on the north coast of Arran, chosen for its proximity to the pure and soft waters of Loch na Davie.
Using barley specially chosen for its high starch content, and applying only traditional methods of distilling, with wooden washbacks and copper stills, their whiskies are evidence that less interference is more character. They do not (as many do) add caramel to their whisky to colour it. Nor do they apply chill filtration, a common practice which removes some of the spirit’s natural oils. While these oils can cause whisky to go cloudy when cooled or poured over ice, they also contribute to the overall flavour and experience of the drink and are best left where they are.
The result, in the case of the Arran 10 year old single malt, is a fine, pale, smooth whisky, with some vanilla sweetness and that unfailing power of whisky to warm you from the inside.
To quote that other Scottish national treasure, Billy Connolly, it’s what you might call a “wee nippy sweetie”.