White Stag Tasting Panel

Deer Stalking on the Isle of Arran


Ladies and gentlemen,
Arran White Stag tastingWe are here to find one of the purest of creatures, indigenous to the mystical Isle of Arran. A mythical beast whose existence became so intertwined with the founding history of the distillery that it was chosen for the crest of its exclusive fan club and a yearly special release was named after it.
The task bestowed upon us today is to identify the white stag for 2016 out of three mystery samples of Arran.

Now how will we trap this beast? When I think about successfully marketing a new whisky three keywords come to mind: tradition, innovation and myth-building. Tradition: the distillery must respect its own legacy. Innovation: the whisky must bring something new to the existing range. Myth-building: people love a good story.

whitestag2

The good people of Arran have done well in the myth-building department. The White Stag as symbol is both iconic and credible, steering clear of the slippery slope of the sales gimmick. To make sure the other two: tradition and innovation sit right, Arran decided to put its loyal community of fans to work, giving those White Stags who are willing and able the opportunity to contribute to the future of Arran.

Three small flasks of Arran numbered from 1 to 3, no information on the casks that were involved or even the ABV. We are on our own here… fortunately the Arran distillers don’t use artificial colouring, so that might be a good indication to start with.

 

Sample#1

whitestagNose: quite delicate, it tells a story of barley, varnish and jute fabric sacks. While delving deeper I catch an off-note of wet leaves. More interestingly there is something fruity lurking beneath, is it lemon squash, or something more exotic?

Mouth: a neat body with a palate that is powerful and clean. Alcohol and oak tannins,…. euhm a drop of pineapple juice maybe?

Finish: medium long, notes of vanilla and oak, a dash of latte coffee and sniff of white pepper.

The Verdict: This dram makes me feel inadequate, am I unable to interpret her subtility? The palate seems to be multi-layered, but I am having a hard time to pinpoint the exact flavours. The nose is captivating, her palate a riddle, is she mysterious enough to be the next White Stag?

Score: 85

Nose: 22

Taste: 20
Finish: 21 Balance: 22
   < 75: undrinkable, avoid at all costs
75-79: acceptable, give it a try but don't spend to much money on it
80-84: average, enjoyable whiskies mostly easy sippable entry-level single malt 
85-89: above average drams, often well aged expressions, open your wallet
90-94: excellence, sorry kids no x-mas presents this year, daddy needs this bottle
95-99: divinity, call your bank manager for another mortgage on your house

 

Sample#2

whitestagNose: black currant jam, a little rubber, with dried plums and some chewing tobacco enveloped in big, bulgy and punchy sherry. More? dark chocolate, rough grind black pepper and a touch of menthol around the edge.

Mouth: rich and incredibly smooth with a drop of water. A palate of dark fruits doused in wine, notes of red meat, spiced up with black pepper, caraway, sprinkles of cinnamon and a touch of blood orange.

Finish: long, intense and slightly drying. A hint of sulphur giving away the sherry cask, some chocolate, and cinnamon.

The Verdict: drawn from a first fill sherry cask from the looks of it. An Arran sherry bomb, a more classic approach than the first sample that’s for sure. The sherry does not smother the flavour as so often is the case with these sherry powerhouses. A clear winner that note of black currant in the nose was enticing and I am in love with the palate. No mysteries here, all is revealed, so maybe a bit less challenging for the true connoisseurs, but just like our White Stag a robust and powerful creature.

Score: 89

Nose: 22

Taste: 23
Finish: 21 Balance: 23
   < 75: undrinkable, avoid at all costs
75-79: acceptable, give it a try but don't spend to much money on it
80-84: average, enjoyable whiskies mostly easy sippable entry-level single malt 
85-89: above average drams, often well aged expressions, open your wallet
90-94: excellence, sorry kids no x-mas presents this year, daddy needs this bottle
95-99: divinity, call your bank manager for another mortgage on your house

 

Sample#3

whitestagNose: opens soft, sweet and creamy. An interplay of peach yoghurt, gooseberry, an exotic touch of mango, a chemical note of soap and a whiff of grain.

Mouth: rich bodied, both bitter and fruity sweet on the palate. I believe I describe it best as a fusion of  pineapple oil, cotton candy, dry white wine and cinnamon. With water added the oak becomes much more outspoken.

Finish: contrary to its predecessors I find the finish to be quite short, notes of gooseberry and oak.

The Verdict: an exotic bourbon cask or am I right to presume that they did some cask finish magic with this whisky. Anyhow a well-balanced dram, with an abundance of flavour and much more accessible than sample #1. But will it be enough to beat sample#2 for the title of White Stag 2016?

Score: 86

Nose: 21

Taste: 22
Finish: 21 Balance: 22
   < 75: undrinkable, avoid at all costs
75-79: acceptable, give it a try but don't spend to much money on it
80-84: average, enjoyable whiskies mostly easy sippable entry-level single malt 
85-89: above average drams, often well aged expressions, open your wallet
90-94: excellence, sorry kids no x-mas presents this year, daddy needs this bottle
95-99: divinity, call your bank manager for another mortgage on your house

 

The Final Verdict

The mist clears and behold a white stag, both majestic and remarkable. Born like its brothers and sisters in the shadow of the mountains on the rocky shores of Arran, but this one came of age in a cask from warm Jerez. Yes, sample #2 is a clear winner in my books and I’ll tell you why. 

Sample #1 would have been the bravest choice, giving the fans of Arran a chance to try something new. But as I couldn’t really get into it myself it would have been an odd-choice to push it on others. Sample #3 was a fun dram and a close second, but it simply couldn’t match the raw power of Sample #2.
To me Sample #2 represents the perfect marriage between Arran’s unique spirit profile and the best a sherry cask has to offer.

Alea iacta est – Let’s hope that my colleagues of the tasting panel came to the same conclusion.