*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
I’m not sure I can definitively say that I have a favorite number, but if you pressed me for an answer, I’d probably have to say the number 16. I’ve liked 16 since I was a little kid and, as far as I know, can trace my favoritism back to two significant markers: Sixto Lezcano and my grandpa’s Evinrude. Sixto Lezcano roamed the right field of old County Stadium in the number 16 for my hometown team, the Milwaukee Brewers, from 1974 – 1980. I loved Sixto Lezcano, partly because his name was awesome, partly because his 1977 Topps card was awesome, and partly because he was that underdog-ish, talented-player-with-flashes-of-greatness kind of guy that young kids inexplicably latch on to. He had a cool batting stance that I like to think I imitated well, and an absolute cannon for an arm. His stellar 1979 season is one any major-leaguer would be proud of and believe it or not, he’s the only major league player in history to hit a grand-slam home run on two opening days. My grandpa’s Evinrude was a sleek, tri-hulled outboard called the “Sweet 16”. While this particular boat may not go down in history as the finest craft ever, it was great (and frightening) fun in the heavy chop of Lake Michigan and an absolute hilarious terror to ski behind when my grandpa was at the helm. As a really young kid, I loved everything about it, the shape, the Evinrude logo, the smell, hell, even the trailer was fun to play with…if only I hadn’t been so afraid of boats, I might have even enjoyed being on the water in that vintage 60’s runabout.
So there you have it, two beloved sixteens in my life, and now a newish sixteen year old whisky on the shelves. A match made in heaven, right? The more Scotch I drink, the more I realize that whiskies aged 15 – 20 years tend to be my favorites. Maybe it’s because that ends up being the range of the majority of whiskies I try (and can afford) or maybe it’s because I find the combination of youthful vigor and growing wood influence of that particular age range particularly delicious…who knows. The newish 16 year old on the shelves is the The Arran Malt’s 16 Year Old, released earlier this Spring, and the oldest release yet from the Isle of Arran’s only distillery. This natural colored and non-chill-filtered expression was aged in a majority of American Oak ex-bourbon barrels (70%) with the remainder being Spanish Oak ex-sherry hogsheads. Described as a 9000 bottle limited release, I’m not sure the Arran 16 year old will be a part of their core line-up, this one is the first in a trio of special malts leading up to the release of an 18 year old in 2015.
The Nose: A very inviting, bright nose full of perfumed floral honey and sweet fruit. Juicy green apples as well as some kind of baked apple dessert along with tinned pineapple, and honey covered malt. Tucked further back are notes of stewed raisins and prunes, and vanilla syrup. Not what I would call heavy wood influence on the nose, soft cinnamon, a bit of candied ginger, even a little sandalwood (again…perfume-y). Well in the background there’s a subtle snap of wet linen drying on the line.
The Palate: Like the nose, the palate is initially filled with complex, lush, very floral honey. Green apples are back as well, this time dipped in a bit of caramel, as well as dusky hints of orange rind and dried fruits. Nicely malty with hints of dark chocolate and almond pralines. Much more wood influence on the palate; drying, green-ish clove, coriander, ginger, and sanded oak.
The Finish: Lingering, with baker’s chocolate, clove, wet oak, currants, and a surprising and all together pleasant slight touch of spearmint towards the end.
Thoughts: A very, very nice whisky. While certainly an Arran Malt, the 16 Year Old also has a unique, beguiling complexity that I didn’t find in its younger siblings. A wonderful, unexpected perfumed quality floats over much of the dram, while the wood influence steadily grows in power and depth as it progresses. The sherry cask influence is apparent throughout, and while no one would ever call this heavily sherried, those dusty dried fruit tones work quite well with the perfumed honey of the nose and palate. Though the sweetness and overall balance could almost convince you otherwise, there is quite a bit going on here and all of it works quite well. A refreshing, surprising summer evening dram, definitely recommended.
The Arran Malt 16 Year Old, Island – Arran, OB +/-2013