*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
Arran’s two Devil’s Punchbowl releases take their eponymous inspiration from an apparently less-than-comfortable glacial hollow on the Isle of Arran. But, as the Devil does seem to get around quite a bit, Arran’s punchbowl is not the only geographic landform on the planet to pay homage to that scurrilous, horned…devil. If we limit ourselves to just the English language, we’ll find quite a few places bearing the name. The earliest example, or at least the most easily determined early example by way of a 10 second googling, might be a rather innocuous looking shallow bowl of land in Surrey, England. Why this place was given such a sinister name is a mystery as the area looks quite pleasant and unthreatening enough even for those not wearing proper hiking boots. A better name for it might have been the accountant’s chafing dish. There’s also a picturesque small lake on Mangerton Mountain (the 25th tallest in Ireland) in County Kerry. If you skip across the Atlantic and over pretty much the entire North American continent, you can find more formidable looking punchbowls associated with you-know-who. On the Oregon coast, two and a half hours south of Portland, there’s a state park whose collapsed sea cave bears the name, and in Los Angeles County, along the San Andreas Fault, there’s a jumbled valley of contorted sandstone named thusly. Closer to home, well…my home, at least, there’s a small, semi-circular, eroded canyon near the great town of Menomonie, Wisconsin, and another similar geological cauldron a bit further west near the St. Croix River, though due to many fond (and blurry) memories and a desire to keep it unsullied and relatively unknown, I’ll keep the location of that one to myself.
So there you have it, there are several Devil’s Punchbowls out there, and though all of the aforementioned spots might make for good hiking and the occasional scenic snapshot, none are as delicious (I’m guessing) as The Arran Malt’s initial Devil’s Punchbowl release which came out in the Summer of 2012. In late Summer of 2013, Arran released the second edition of the Devil’s Punchbowl, entitled, Angels & Devils. This 6,600 bottle second chapter, like the first, is a vatting of 27 casks ranging in age and type, with both peated and unpeated malts present. The difference between the first chapter and this second chapter lies, like the devil himself, in the details. Chapter II is a slightly younger expression, the oldest whiskies present coming from 1997 versus 1996 for Chapter I. On the other hand, Chapter II is not quite as young as Chapter I, with the youngest whiskies dating from 2004 versus 2006. As with Chapter I, the youngest malts here are the peated ones, the 2004 casks in this case being the oldest peated stock yet released by Arran. Another key difference is the distribution of the ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks. Whereas Chapter I used ex-bourbon casks from 1996 and 2006, Chapter II’s ex-bourbon casks are all from 2002 and 2004 (a significant difference, no?) while all the ex-sherry casks are from 1997 and 1998.
The Nose: A vibrant yet darkly fruity nose with subtle peat undertones. A touch spirit-y initially with macerated cherries, tart red apples, and stewed prunes or perhaps raisins in rice pudding. The quiet, earthy peat mingles with nice, ever-so-slightly beery malt and crushed graham crackers to provide a nice counterpoint to the sweetness. Lingering in the background are touches of dark chocolate, ginger powder, lemon peel and very faint, greenish woodsmoke. A splash of water reveals a bit more sherry cask influence and a little more baker’s chocolate.
The Palate: The palate is a bit more devilish than the nose portends. An initial, slightly puckering citrus note is followed by honey-drizzled almonds, chocolate, and dusty dried fruit. There’s more of that almost vegetal peat than on the nose, it’s not medicinal, just slightly pungent. More ginger spice and clove blooms towards the end as that citrus turns more lemon curd-y and that bit of smoke creeps back into the picture. Adding water tones down that initial hit of citrus and the spicy ginger, allowing more subtle dried fruit and nuttiness to come out.
The Finish: Fairly drying and not as long as I was expecting, but full of honeyed, earthy peat, salted nuts, and wispy wood smoke.
Thoughts: A quite good whisky, though I definitely found more angels here than devils. The sherry cask influence is more subtle than I expected as is the peat, though both come through more on the palate. Compared to the first one, I found more of what I think of as Arran character here, but at the same time, that made it less unique than the first expression. This is a lively, delicious, well-balanced whisky that progresses nicely right to the end, but I didn’t find myself marveling over this one as I did with the initial expression. I have to say that I liked Chapter I more. That said, I’m glad Arran went for a different flavor profile and didn’t just try to come close to Chapter I again. While on the one hand this is a worthy addition to Arran’s Punchbowl book, in this case, the high price tag (~$135) is something to consider. Still, recommended.