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Arran

Arran Machrie Moor, Cask Strength, 2nd Edition (70cl 58.2%)

€65.81 $71.11 £56.99

Earth

Tobacco, leather, fungus, rubber, light peat

Single malt Scotch whisky has generated tasting notes varied enough to put the world of wine to shame. Entire books have been published that try to do nothing but describe the taste of whiskies. This huge variation of flavour means that, if you try and condense the entire project of tasting notes to just 10 possible flavours, you will inevitably have to make some compromises. As a result, the set of flavours we have encompassed under the term “Earth” include virtually anything that is savoury or unusual, although they may not have much in common with one another. It is therefore more open to interpretation than our other flavour guides.

By “Earth” we seek to include under one umbrella all the flavours produced by light - not excessive - peat smoke: the aroma of pipe tobacco or cigar smoke, the scent of freshly dug soil, the dry smoke of a hearth fired by wood or inland peat; it may also include the distinctively savoury notes of rubber, leather or fungus that inexplicably make their way into some of the more complex single malts.

For example, peat is present in some classic favourites like Dalwhinnie or Highland Park in such small quantities that it is not at first recognisable as the same flavour that marks the peat beasts of Islay. Many of the older Lowland malts contained a thin streak of peat smoke - it remains to a certain extent in Glenkinchie, while those who are familiar with Rosebank or Littlemill will recognise a rubbery or glue-like characteristic. A medium peating level, used in many Highland or Campbeltown malts, may result in a very distinctively earthy flavour when it is lacking the saltiness that marks those of Islay: Ardmore or Blair Athol, for example, are still a good way removed from Laphroaig or Ardbeg, despite their relatively high PPM, simply because their peat source is dry and inland.

The savoury characteristic of earthy flavours goes well with the leathery or grassy side of certain cigars: the dryness may go well with a Bolivar or a Punch, while those whiskies balanced with a little sweetness might pair well with Montecristo.

Fresh Fruit

Citrus, berries, apple, pear

One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Speyside region, fruity flavours are also common in the Islands (so long as peat does not dominate) and in many Lowland single malts. It is a curious coincidence to find overt flavours of fruits in a spirit made from grain, and therefore of a completely different provenance to brandy or wine: these flavours of fresh fruit - to be distinguished from the drier flavours of raisins, red grape or fruitcake that derive from sherry-cask maturation and are grouped under the ‘dried fruit’ tag - owe much to the influence of ex-bourbon barrels made from American Oak. These casks generally produce vibrant aromas with a far lighter and fresher character than the heavy, dry European Oak sherry casks: tropical fruits, such as pineapple, kiwi or coconut, are a common comparison.

Some whiskies present clear flavours of apple or pear, such as Glenfiddich 12-year-old and many other Speyside whiskies in a similar style (our Treasurer’s Selection Benrinnes is an excellent example). Others tend towards a tarter citrus flavour, such as the orange notes in Dalmore or the tropical fruits of Arran. Flavours of red berries often derive from wine casks - raspberry, strawberry or cherry are common flavours in port-cask matured whiskies (see e.g. Balvenie Portwood or Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban), while drier flavours of cranberry or red plum may result from various red wine finishes (e.g. Longrow Red, or many of the wine cask expressions from Edradour). It is a wide-ranging set of flavours with all sorts of possible incarnations, and a good test for the learner’s palate: it is easy to define a whisky as tasting ‘fruity’, but is it fresh fruit or dried? Apple, citrus or berry? Raspberry, blackberry or boysenberry…?

Some cigars have slightly fruity flavours themselves, which are an obvious pairing: consider the floral flavours of Romeo y Julieta or San Cristobal, for example. Grassy or sweet flavours may also complement this diverse and expressive flavour profile.

Chocolate

Cocoa, cream, coffee beans

“Scotch and Chocolate” is the name of an instrumental piece from the American bluegrass band Nickel Creek. Bluegrass musicians generally know a thing or two about whisky, and right enough, the two are natural pairings (that goes both for Scotch and chocolate and for whisky and bluegrass!) - not least because many Scotch whiskies themselves have flavours that can be compared to chocolate, whether it be the creaminess of milk chocolate or the richness and coffee-bean-like bitterness of dark chocolate.

Chocolatey flavours are often the result of sherry-cask maturation, much like dried fruit - indeed, the two flavours often go together, as with the classic Macallans or Glendronachs. In particular, younger whiskies - especially blends - containing a proportion of sherry-matured malt often have an overtly sweet milk-chocolate character; older malts often become richer and more bitter, with dark chocolate or coffee notes. Dalmore is an excellent example of the latter, while a lighter style is key to the appeal of the underrated islander Tobermory.

The rich and heavy sweet flavours encapsulated by this flavour profile are often the result of the charring of oak casks, which produces compounds known as lactones (so named because of their similarity, in terms of flavour, to dairy products). It is therefore entirely consistent that the creamy, buttery characteristics of this flavour are often associated with bourbon: the new wood which gives bourbon its particular character provides strong chocolatey flavours, represented in Scotland by Glen Garioch Virgin Oak or Auchentoshan Virgin Oak; Talisker Storm is another good example, where freshly-charred rejuvenated casks provide a buttery, bourbon-like mouthfeel missing from the refill-cask-matured 10-year-old.

Chocolatey flavours are an obvious complement to the more dairy-like or milky elements of certain cigar styles - Rafael Gonzales or Hoyo de Monterrey would be good pairings, for example.

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Batch 2 of Machrie Moor Cask Strength promises all the depth of character of Batch 1 and also features the re-designed paper label for 2015.

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Tasting Notes

Nose: A muscular nose with wood smoke, unmistakeable peat and fresh pineapple. Behind the growl there are more delicate notes of pear and lime.
Palate: Fruit notes develop, a drop of water gives raspberry jam on freshly baked bread. A constant back bone of peat smoke is the highlight of this robust dram.
Finish: Lingering, with charred bourbon cask vanilla flavour and classic Arran maritime notes.

Product Info

Batch 2 of Machrie Moor Cask Strength promises all the depth of character of Batch 1 and also features the re-designed paper label for 2015.

• Second release of Machrie Moor at Cask Strength (58.2%)
• Peating level of 20PPM
• Limited Edition of 9,000 bottles worldwide

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