The Isle of Arran Machrie Moor: 46% abv versus the Cask Strength edition Comparison

The Isle of Arran Machrie Moor is available in two editions. The cask Strength annual release and the standard 46% abv expression. Despite the fact that there are hardly any reviews of this whisky on YouTube or the Internet, both expressions are widely available here in Israel. I thought it would be a good idea to do a review comparison to see which one you should buy. It is a pertinent question as the 46% abv expression is going for around 220 to 250 Shekels here in Israel, with the Cask Strength going for 250 to 280 Shekels. So you see, there is not that much price difference between them. So is the Cask Strength worth the extra 30 shekels?
The Isle of Arran Distillery
Opened in 1995 with an annual capacity of around 750,000 litres, let’s see if we can see a common theme with Isle of Arran cask maturation type usage.

There is the Isle of Arran Sherry cask, the 10-Year-Old matured in sherry casks, the Marsala wine cask, The Amarone wine cask, the Port Cask, the Cote Rotie cask, the 14, 18 and 24 Year Olds, all matured in Sherry casks, and of course their very popular special editions wine cask releases. Yep, Arran is famous for its wine cask matured whiskies which is the reason why I have, up until now, never tasted anything from there.
Unfortunately, this is becoming a common theme throughout the Single Malt Whisky industry with more and more distilleries abandoning Ex-Bourbon cask expressions and switching their entire range to sherry or wine cask matured bottlings. I believe I have already mentioned in a previous blog that Kilchoman on Islay for instance, which has produced some stunning Ex-Bourbon expressions, has, at this moment in time, not a single Ex-Bourbon matured bottling in their entire range.
Go check for yourselves. If you go into the Whisky Exchange online store and look at all the hundreds of new releases of Single Malt whisky over the past year, you might find but a hand full of Ex-Bourbon matured examples.
So you see I am not just “sherry” picking and am just pointing out facts, (that is, it’s not just sour grapes), and having sufficiently “fortified” my argument, it’s time to stop “wining” on about this im-“Port”-ant subject mah-Deara, and get on with the review.

The only previous exclusively Ex-Bourbon expression was their “Limited” (to 12,000 bottles) Edition “James MacTaggart 10th anniversary edition” celebrating the Master Distiller’s 10 years at Arran distillery. Even though I bought this really fancy packaged MacTaggart a few years ago, I haven’t actually got round to opening it, so these Machrie Moors, being the distillery’s first standard expressions to be Ex-Bourbon cask matured (as well as their only peated whisky), is my first taste of Arran.
The Isle of Arran
The Island lies in the Firth of Clyde off the west coast Scotland, roughly parallel to East Kilbride to the south of the city of Glasgow. It is actually sandwiched between the mainland and the Kintyre peninsula. Its surface area covers approximately 167 square miles (432 square km) and is the sixth biggest island in Scotland with a population of just under 5,000 residents. Despite its close proximity to the mainland, it maintains that isolated island atmosphere due to the fact that it is only accessible via ferry.
Click for larger Picture

The distillery is situated in the very north of the Arran, slightly higher than the Campbeltown region on the Kintyre peninsula, (home to Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle (Kilkerran) distilleries), which, on a map, is to its immediate left.
A clear sign of success is the fact that the private shareholders are in the process of building a second distillery on Arran, in the southern part of the island called “Lagg”.
The Peat at Machrie Moor
The Machrie Moor, originally an experimental peated Arran is now in their regular line-up, released in two versions, the 46% abv (presented in a metallic brown/copper canister) and the annual release Cask Strength (presented in a silver canister).
Time to get our hands dirty and talk about the peat. Early Editions were peated at a tentatively timid 10-16 PPM but later editions including this 8th edition, weigh in at a respectable 20 PPM, taking it out of the “touch of peat” group such as the Tomintoul Peaty Tang, Talisker 10 and Ardmore QC, and putting it well and truly into the ranks of Islay whiskies such as Kilchoman distillery.
The peat source is a bog called, (you guessed it) “Machrie Moor”, 40 minutes’ drive from the distillery, in the middle of the island on East coast.
The area is known as the “Mysterious Machrie Moor” due to its many ancient – lost and forgotten in the mists of time, standing stones and no less than six full stone circles. I say “ancient” but in the same time period, back at home in Israel, we were involved in continuous and desperate wars with the Egyptian and Syrian empires, leading to the ever increasing involvement of the Roman empire into our affairs, leading to their evential complete invasion and occupation, leading to the destruction of our Holy Temple and capital city Yerushalayim. This led to our 2,000-year long exile, which to us is not ancient history at all and seems like yesterday!
By the way, the only known peat source here in Israel is in the Hula Basin near Kibbutz Neot Mordechai (where the sandals come from), which just happens to be just up the road from the Golan Heights distillery. David Zibell, the distillery manager, told me some time ago that there were major challenges making malt out of Sabra tough Israeli barley but I’m sure that it hasn’t escaped his attention that there is a major salty peat bog in his neighbourhood…(nudge-nudge, wink-wink).
Of all the six main peat sources in Scotland, the Machrie Moor’s peat flavour profile seems similar but lighter than the north east of Islay peat, being coastal, sea vegetation and pungent although not quite as heavy. There is a touch of pungency reminiscent of Ledaig (Tobermory) and similar to the peat found in Springbank Longrow Peated in the Campbeltown region.
As will be seen in the review, this Arran peat flavour profile is very much reflected in the whisky.

It should be quite obvious to everyone that the branding and packaging of these peated versions of Arran are very different to the rest of the range. I’m not sure why they decided to set them apart in such a dramatic way. It’s almost as if the Machrie Moors are the black sheep (or dog) of the family. It is interesting that the two releases share identical packaging and artwork with one minor exception. There is an illustration of a barrel sitting beside the dog in the Cask Strength release.

Despite the fact that I have moaned about this before and about the exact same Israeli importer, I will continue to complain until they do something about it. There is no reason whatsoever why the importer should stick a paper sticky label on top of the original distillery label. Any attempt to remove it results in a damaged back label. Why can't the Shaked company use peel off plastic stickers like other "sapakim"?

Machrie Moor Peated Arran Single Malt
Let’s start with what these two bottles have in common apart from the name. They are both Non-Chill Filtered and natural Colour and bottled at higher than minimum strength. These are all fantastic things but it’s just a petty that they do not have the confidence of other smaller distilleries about the same size, who are not afraid to state the age of the whiskies inside the bottle. They are both therefore reduced to the ranks of NAS whiskies. Might I suggest that seeing as they do publicise the different bottlings as “editions”, that if they do not want to state minimum age, they should think about Vintage statements like Kilchoman or Benromach?
So, without further ado, here is the review:

I started off sampling the 46% abv expression for a couple of Shabbatot before purchasing the Cask Strength for a comparison review. The first time I actually compared these two whiskies was with my father two weeks ago. My parents were visiting us here in Israel for the Bris Mila of my grandson and their great-grandson. It was really good to get his opinion as well as spend some quality and very enjoyable time together. The tasting notes below are a product of both of our combined thoughts and impressions.

8th Edition 46% abv Bottled 2016. NAS. 70 cl. Around 240 Shekels
On the Nose

Sweet heathery coastal peat smoke from a nearby wood and dry brambles bonfire wafting over a garden of roses and Jasmin. There is also a waft of new-road sweet tarmac. The whisky is very lemony with mountain stream minerals. Lemon grass and Honey Travel sweets with powdered sugar. The perfumed sweet smoke is quite pronounced which gives the impression that this a higher PPM than the stated 20 PPM. The aroma is really quite enchanting.
Wonderful and full mouth-fill. The combination of tar peat and lemon curd flavours and thickness coats your whole tongue. It is particularly pleasurable at the back of the tongue with lively lemon Sherbet ice cream sparkling and fizzy sensations. As it settles in the glass with a teaspoon of water, the zesty sherbet gradually turns into a refreshing lemon and vanilla Sorbet, a touch of drizzled honey and sweet dark chocolate. After the effects of the peat start to recede, you become aware of softer flavours such as green apples, mild soft toffee, sour lemon curd, creamy honey and vanilla tea.
As it goes down the throat it is feisty, refreshing, lemony and lively. Adding water seems to make the honey and vanilla flavours creamier.
The Cask Strength bottled at 56.2% abv. NAS. Around 270 Shekels
On the Nose

I was quite Surprised that, even though I knew his was cask strength, I honestly wasn’t immediately aware that it was a higher alcohol strength by just smelling. What I mean is that I did not experience any alcohol nip on the nose at all.
High alcohol levels were however evident in the way that the peat was conveyed. Even though they use the same peat source and PPM levels for both expressions, the abv dramatically changes the way in which it is perceived. There is a very strong pungent smell. Almost Ledaig levels farmyard stinky cow sheds but not quite. Let’s say, farmyard hay barn affect. With water added, the saltiness of the coastal style peat is more pronounced as well. You also start picking up rich flavours of Dutch Cocoa powder.
The sweet lemon has turned slight bitter to let’s say, lemon rind. The same floral rose garden is very much apparent though but more “heady”, like a lady’s perfume spray. That combination of lemons and grass hay emphasises the lemon grass nose.
With a teaspoon of water and a five-minute wait, there is a really lovely fresh lemony mint or “nana” aroma. I found this most delightful and quite unusual. I don’t remember ever smelling fresh mint in a whisky before?
Without that added though, sampled straight, some people might find that pungency and lemon bitterness off putting.
Quite a bit thicker than the 46% abv version. There does seem to be more body. The same flavour profile is all there and with the right amount of water, you get a more rewarding and richer tasting experience. However, you have to have time, patience and a little experience.

Colour Comparison

As far as colour is concerned, they both have the same identical dirty chardonnay white wine straw colour.


The brown canister 46% abv version is definitely more approachable to the casual whisky drinker. It’s easy going and only needs a touch of water for it to explode in the mouth with flavour.

I have to admit now that my father preferred the 46% expression over the cask Strength. However, in my view, the brown canister whisky is a touch too well-mannered and contrived compared to its Cask strength brother. Had I not compared it to the Cask Strength I would have highly recommended the 46% abv, on its own merits. However, (and again this is only my personal opinion), when compared to the Cask Strength, it lacks a bit of body and the fuller flavour which I think the Cask Strength offers.
So, if you have the time and patience and are looking for something a wee bit more challenging than yoru average dram but ultimately more rewarding,  then you should look for that silver canister tube.
I would recommend the 46% abv standard release to everyone but buy the Cask Strength for my whisky cabinet. Besides, I like the silver canister better than the dark brown one.
Comparisons to other Single malts
Trying to describe this whisky to friends, I found myself making comparisons to similar whiskies. The lemony tang of Lagavulin 8-Year-Old crossed with Caol Ila pungency, the heather of Scapa 14 from Orkney and a touch of sour lemon and earthy peat of Ardbeg 10 perhaps?
But there is something else. A refreshing lively character, coastal and pungent, heathery but also, a very powerful perfume garden floral nose, almost dare I say, a Speyside floral note like Tomintoul 16 or Balvenie 12-Year Old Single Bourbon cask. You don’t get that combination of heather and floral with any island whisky I am aware of.
So would it be fair to label the Machrie Moor as an Islay “Light” whisky or gateway to the real stuff? No! Absolutely not. It’s stands as a unique peated island whisky in its own right and is highly recommended. The cask Strength has definitely earned the right to be a staple part of my collection, one that I will replace as soon as I go below the quarter empty level.


  1. It was real pleasure to read your article: well documented and explained and these photos of your father and you are awesome. I like so much to have a good dram with my son....

    1. Thank you Patrick for takingthe time to write a comment and for your very kind words. I hope that the odd Hebrew word here and there did not detract from your enjoyment. Isn't it odd that this expression is pretty much ignored by other reviewers?


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