Tasting Arran

Setting sail on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry – destination Arran

The stunning Isle of Arran, located in the Firth of Clyde, is Scotland’s seventh largest and most southerly island. Nestled between Kintyre and Ayrshire, you enjoy a spectacular view of the Arran hills, known as the ‘Sleeping Warrior’, on the short ferry trip (55 minutes) from Ardrossan before arriving in Brodick, the ‘capital’ of Arran.

Arran is an incredibly scenic island where stunning vistas are a plenty. The gorse laden hills, particularly Holy Isle (opposite Lamlash and one of Arran’s 3 satellite isles) and Goat Fell (the highest hill on Arran measuring 873.5 metres that seems to be visible everywhere you go) along with the abundance of beautiful glens, valleys, rugged coastlines and beaches all contribute to the continuous sublime views around Arran. Add in the red deer, otters, dolphins, seals, porpoises, basking sharks, Minke whales, eagles (golden and white tailed), Peregrine Falcons and Ospreys, it truly is a visual feast to behold.

Always a pleasure, Wine School of Excellence (WSE) was delighted to be back. As well as the enchanting beauty, we love the nods to Arran’s Gaelic heritage all around, the tranquillity and slower pace of life plus, what most people don’t know, their culinary delights. Clearly not just us.  The 5,000 or so inhabitants soar to around 30,000 during the high season!!

First in the UK to achieve the SALSA quality standard

Arran is a world renowned foodie paradise. Despite only measuring 432 kilometres square (19 miles long and only 10 miles wide), there is a staggering amount and wide range of premium quality food and drink produced on the island. Most are focused on environmentally friendly practices and members of a Taste of Arran who were the first in the UK to achieve the SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approved) quality accreditation. These industrious islanders seem to have left no stone unturned and produce includes cheese, ice cream, chutneys, fish, meat, preservatives, ales and whiskies.

Isle of Arran Distillers in Lochranza was established in 1995

The Isle of Arran Distillers, located in Lochranza in the north of the island, was first established in 1995. WSE first visited them shortly after that during a charity bike ride (Big Bad Bike Ride). Cycling around the island in aid of Ataxia UK, we were lucky enough to witness a stag standing majestically in the foothills of Goat Fell, an exquisite golden eagle soaring in the blue skies and a basking shark sunning himself on the dead calm sea before a small group of us deviated away from the 150 other riders to take the distillery’s one hour ‘casual’ tour mid-cycle ride! After chatting with the friendly guide who doubled as a ‘journalist’ for the local rag, we replaced our water bottles with some of their finest, well it would have been rude not to, before continuing our challenge unabated and with renewed vigour. At the finish line at the Kinloch Hotel in Blackwaterfoot, we came in last to much hilarity, pomp and ceremony from the patiently waiting ‘welcoming committee’ who had managed to uncover our subterfuge detour.

Award winning Visitor Centre opened by the Queen in 1997

Since then, the distillery has changed dramatically. Her Majesty the Queen opened their new Visitor Centre in 1997; Ewan McGregor popped in to sample and celebrate their first cask of 3 Year Old Arran Single Malt Scotch Whisky the following year; 2007 they were awarded Scottish Distillery of the Year; 2014 and 2015 Distillery Visitor Experience of the Year; 2016 saw the release of their first ever 18 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky; and 2017 sees another distillery underway in the south of the island where they intend to distill other spirits like gin. A great success story.

Ewan McGregor popped in to sample and celebrate their first cask of 3 Year Old Arran Single Mal Scotch Whisky

Copper pot still ‘put out to pasture’ in the grounds of The Isle of Arran Distillery

Cool tartan clad tour guides

18 Year Old Arran Malt Scotch Whisky

Visiting the distillery this time round, the tour guides (there’s an army of them now) jeans and t-shirts have been replaced with very cool tartan kilts. There is a striking new visitor centre, a huge copper pot still has been ‘put out to pasture’ in the grounds, a slick tour and importantly they now have an impressive array of Blends, Single Malt Whiskies (loved their 18 Year Old Arran Malt with notes of vanilla, orange and chocolate), Limited Editions (the peated Machrie Moor Cask Strength Single Malt 3rd Edition is worth a whirl) and Liqueurs (as cream liqueurs go, their Arran Gold is classy with notes of fudge and honey).  Time clearly stands still for no Scotsman.

So if you visit this lovely island, your ‘Arran’ dinner menu is easily sorted (most can be ordered online too if you want to re-create it when you return home). We’d recommend a wee dram of Scotland’s finest before indulging in a luxury Scottish Smoked Salmon starter from the artisan Creelers Smokehouse, as a main some naturally reared Arran venison from The Arran Butcher (they even make their own Arran Haggis and Black Pudding) cooked in some of Robins Herbs followed by a cheese board selection (and there’s plenty to choose from) courtesy of the Island Cheese Company (the Claret cheddar is fab) or Bellevue Creamery which just have to go on Wooleys of Arran oatcakes and served alongside some delicious chutneys (again lots of great choice) from Arran Fine Foods. To finish, why not have some ice cream as Arran Dairies are to die for, particularly the luxury personified Arran Gold flavour, and they also do some great sorbets for palate cleansers between courses!! After all that you’ll need a digestive so what better than a tot of Arran Gold.

shops, bars, hotels or restaurants, you’ll find they all stock brand Arran”

What we particularly like about Arran is the islanders supportive network approach. No matter where you go e.g. shops, bars, hotels or restaurants, you’ll find they all stock brand Arran.

If you’ve never been or forgotten about this jewel in Scotland’s crown, it’s well worth a trip or re-visit.  Get booking!!

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