In popular culture, the Devil doesn’t always seem to instill that much terror. Sure, there are a few good movies featuring/invoking a truly horrific being of some sort, maybe a book here and there, or a bit of extreme metal from Norway, but generally the Devil is viewed with a bit of humor, as having bit of class, and tempting us with a bit of subversive inverse morality we all like to think about but rarely give ourselves the chance to go out on a limb and try. He’s often portrayed as a he, usually pretty suave, if not frighteningly persuasive, occasionally well-dressed when not hot, red, and horned, and every once in a while, feral and dangerous when encountered in the wild. For example, there’s the polite yet boastful protagonist of the Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil”, the testing, scheming Lucifer of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, the musically gifted Devil who went down to Georgia, the elusive and dubious Jersey Devil (not the goal scoring ones), the devious pervert in the ever popular pillar of American cinema, “The Devil in Miss Jones”, or, if you like, the Italian film classic, “Nude for Satan”.
So seemeth the devil in The Arran Malt’s Devil’s Punch Bowl release. A stylized, high-temperature playboy from hell, tempting us with a large bowl of what can only be sinfully good punch of some kind that will most likely lead us astray from our righteous path. With its name inspired by an apparently baleful glacial hollow called Coire na Ciche which lies at the base of Cioch na h-Oighe peak, this expression was released in the Summer of 2012 and is perhaps the most interesting limited edition release yet from Arran, who have made a habit of releasing interesting limited editions. Created from a taboo incantation from the Necromonicon (not true…maybe), and a vatting of 24 different casks using a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry wood. Master Distiller James MacTaggart combined non-peated malt distilled between 1996 and 1998 with peated malt distilled in 2006 to make up the vatting which was then bottled at cask strength. Speaking of bottled, the release was limited to, appropriately enough, 6660 bottles. A quick note on the damn well-executed packaging on this one, excellent graphics all around and, just to satisfy whisky geek’s insatiable thirst for relatively meaningless knowledge, a listing on the inside cover of the box of all the casks used to make this excellent release.
The Nose: Sweet with a little peaty trouble lurking…how apropos. Fresh made applesauce, cherry cobbler and vanilla almond cookies with a honeyed peat counterpoint that’s softly phenolic and subtly earthy. Slightly tannic grape skins and a little fresh-baked banana bread lead to crisp wood notes of dusty cinnamon, white pepper, and dried pine sawdust. Off in the distance, almost as an echo is a wisp of dry woodsmoke. A splash of water plays up the peat and smoke a bit more and also brings out more tart cherry and stone fruit notes.
The Palate: A quick flash of peat smoke followed by more baked dessert notes, cherry pie and raisin rice pudding. Honeyed malt and soft, rounded peat with a bit of citrus pith around the edges transition smoothly into a growing swell of spice. Cinnamon, clove, powdered ginger, and fresh sawn oak. A redux of peat-tinged smoke returns a leads into the finish. Water takes away that early hit of peat, but makes up for it later on as the peat and smoke wind their way amongst the initial fruit and emerging spice.
The Finish: Continued fruitiness with just the right amount of smoke, a touch of peat and nice lingering notes of vanilla and oak
Thoughts: Beautiful stuff, perhaps my favorite Arran yet along with the Rowan Tree. Wonderfully complex, this one manages to balance those Arran fruit notes with just the right amount of peat and smoke. It’s lively with just a hint of brooding menace lurking…much like the devil himself. Despite its high ABV, I found it smooth and easily sippable at strength. adding water slowed its progression, making it a bit less lively and playful, and more languid and tempting…much like the devil himself. A wonderfully crafted malt by a distillery that just seems to get better and better as they take advantage of their widening range of maturing stock. Highly Recommended.