Following the dramatic growth in distillery numbers across Scotland, you could be forgiven for thinking the Isle of Arran distillery is actually middle-aged. It was founded in 1995 by Harold Currie who had previously been a managing director of Chivas Brothers. The cost of the distillery was around £1.2 million and this was partially financed by family and friends, as well as an early form of crowdfunding with the issuing of 2,500 Founder’s Bonds at £450 each. These proved extremely popular and sold out within 18 months of release. This method of raising capital has been adopted by several distilleries since.
When production commenced in 1997, it returned legal distilling to the island that had been previously been home to Lagg distillery. This sole outpost closed in 1837 after being in operation for just 12 years although Arran was also home to many illicit distillers before and since. By good fortune the 1990’s decline was coming to an end and an upsurge in demand and all things whisky was soon to follow. The stunning location of Arran has always been a popular tourist destination, easily accessible from the mainland and this ensures a steady stream of visitors; it’s no surprise that the distillery has gone from strength to strength. Revenue is assisted by a popular café on site, distillery shop and a diverse range of tour options.
Situated to the west of Lochranza, which is at the northern end of the island. The distillery is a short walk from the coast and the Firth of Clyde, standing in the shadow of a mountain. Small but perfectly formed, the buildings feature pagodas and the classic white colour scheme you’d normally associate with coastal Islay distilleries. There is no mistaking that this is a distillery but also one that has a modern appearance and outlook.
Arran’s original two stills were inspired by those at The Macallan, being smaller in stature. These help create an almost Speyside-like new make spirit that displays a light palate with the emphasis on summer fruits. With a capacity of around 1.2 million litres, Arran is not a huge producer on paper and in reality has not always run at full production. This revised figure reflects the addition of 2 new stills that were installed at the end of 2016, upping its capacity from an original 750,000 litres.
Unlike other distilleries it is now owned by a group of private shareholders led by Euan Mitchell and collectively known as the Isle of Arran Distillers Limited. As an entity it is in control of its destiny and importantly its own whisky Without the need to support a major blended Scotch most of its output is destined for the single malt market and the Robert Burns blend. This freedom means that it has engaged in a multitude of releases and expressions since 1998, when it could first legally bottle whisky.
The idyllic setting leaves the distillery little room for expansion as it continues to grow in popularity. This is reflected with the issues around maturation with additional warehousing being utilised on the mainland at the nearby Springbank distillery and further afield at Invergordon. After securing an additional £3 million investment, a new modern warehouse capable of storing 12,000 casks was built in December 2014 along with a new blending room. Further expansion is planned but at a completely new site with the establishment of a second Arran distillery. Ironically this will be located at Lagg, towards the southern of the island and previously home to Arran’s aforementioned lost distillery. Plans are in their infancy but the second site will handle the production of the peated spirit that goes into the popular Machrie Moor releases.
Arran may have recently reached the milestone of a 21-year-old bottling, but in distillery terms it’s still a youngster and one that has enjoyed a great deal of success. Now exporting to 35 countries and still growing, its initial releases were matured or finished in a variety of cask types. The core age statement range now comprises of the 10, 12, 14 and 18-year-old expressions. These have been joined in recent years by a range of limited edition bottlings including the Devil’s Punch Bowl series and the ongoing Illicit Stills. These have proved very popular with enthusiasts and collectors alike and we can expect more from Arran in the coming years.