The Angels’ Share/Isle of Arran Distillery Ltd.
A number of books have appeared in recent years devoted to a single distillery or company. Some of the best whisky writers – and I particularly have in mind Ian Buxton in this respect – have made excellent contributions to recording the early history of such icons as Glenfarclas, Dewars and The Famous Grouse, before the archives are locked away and the people who were central to their success move on to the great still house in the sky!
Neil Wilson, whose book “Ardbeg – Jewel of Islay” was an early example of the single distillery history, is to be congratulated on this recent addition to the genre. And who would have thought that the history of a distillery, which dates only from 1995 in terms of commencement of production, could run to 168 pages of tightly written text and superb images. But this one certainly does with a story that is really quite fascinating, not least because much of it takes place on an island of great beauty and intriguing history.
My only visit to the distillery was on a wet and windy day by train from Glasgow, then ferry and finally by bus. It still had a newness about it and, of course, appears tiny compared with those giants of Speyside with which we are so familiar. Yet in its relatively brief life the Isle of Arran distillery has produced an endless array of expressions and has established itself as a whisky of some discretion.
This volume is a worthy introduction to the new generation of malt whisky distilleries in Scotland, of which Isle of Arran was firmly in the vanguard. The only problem with it is that we shall need a new edition with the appearance of a second distillery at Lagg in the south of the island, which is due to start production in 2019.
As a footnote, I was particularly interested to learn that Hal Currie, one of the two founders of the distillery, had commenced his career in Liverpool after the War at Rigby and Evans, the noted wine and spirit merchants who were also whisky blenders and exporters. They had owned William Maxwell (Scotch Whisky) Ltd., which they sold to Peter J Russell and Company Limited. I wonder if this is how Hal Currie had his first exposure to the Scotch whisky industry before he joined Seagram and it’s highly successful Chivas Regal campaign to which he contributed so much.
Another personal observation arising from my reading of this delightful book relates to the similarities in the history of distilling on the Isle of Arran and on the equally beautiful but much larger island of Tasmania. The last legal distillery on Arran closed in 1837 and whisky production – at least of the official variety – did not recommence until 1995 – a gap of 158 years. For totally different reasons, the relative years in Tasmania were 1838 and 1992 - a gap of 154 years. How curious is that! However, there is a big difference in that whilst Arran only has the one distillery (soon to be two), Tasmania now has over 30 distilleries, although not all of them are producing whisky.