Arran’s “Water of Life”

Arran’s “Water of Life” by Kenneth Gibson, MSP

I may be biased, but I can’t think of a better place than Arran to make whisky.

From its beginnings at Loch Na Davie, through the waterfalls of the Easan Biorach burn and finally to the distillery at Lochranza, the path of Arran Malt’s water seems almost made-for-purpose. It’s no wonder then that this relatively modern distillery follows in the footsteps of a much older tradition.

It’s not certain exactly when whisky was first made on Arran, but it certainly dates back centuries. It’s thought that in the 18th century there were around 50 stills on Arran. Of course, it is difficult to know for sure, as few were legal. Most were illicit, homemade stills, also known as “moonlight distilleries.” For centuries, these illicit stills provided an opportunity for small Arran communities to increase their incomes. The resulting whisky, which became known as “Arran Waters.” was then smuggled from Lagg to be sold on the mainland.

The 19th Century brought with it increased regulation and a huge rise in demand, which forced distillers to focus more on producing large quantities than they had before, legally.

Sadly, Arran could not compete with the increasingly industrial scale of Speyside and Highland malt production, from distilleries with superior funding and easier access to resources. One by one, Arran’s distilleries ceased production and in 1837 the Lagg distillery, the last legal distillery on Arran, closed its doors.

It would be over 150 years before Arran saw the return of the distilling tradition.

In 1994 Arran Distillers was founded by Harold Currie, former director of Chivas. Lochranza was identified as the ideal site for the new distillery, as the water is of such high quality, and work began in December that year.

Notwithstanding a short break to allow for the nesting of golden eagles on a cliff near the distillery, work progressed quickly, and the distillery began production in June 1995.

As the connoisseurs amongst us will know, spirit must be matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years to be considered whisky. By the time the first cask of Arran Single Malt Scotch Whisky was opened on 25th July 1998 – by Ewan McGregor, no less – it was the first legal dram created on Arran in over 160 years.

The Arran Malt 10-year-old is instantly recognisable, and it’s difficult to believe it has only been with us since 2006. For such a new distillery, Arran whisky has firmly secured its place on the shelves of bars and collectors alike. The 10-year malt has even garnered something of a reputation as the ideal whisky to entice new drinkers, as it packs a punch of honey and citrus while managing to stay mellow and approachable.

The Lochranza distillery continues to go from strength to strength, winning the coveted Distillery of the Year award in 2007, and Distillery Visitor Experience of the Year in 2014 and 2015.

More recently, Arran has welcomed in a new chapter in its distilling story. The new Lagg Distillery, which began production in March 2019, officially opened to the public in June that same year. While we won’t see any whisky until at least 2022, the rich, smoky flavour promised by the peated barley is sure to be worth the wait!