I’d already written this review in my head. I’d sampled this whisky several times over the past few months and on each and every occasion found that it possessed an incredibly sulphurous edge to it. Today was going to be a musing on liquid taints – sulphur being a not uncommon, but sometimes controversial example. Now, I’m not nearly as predisposed to this supposed scourge as some, indeed, in some cases I enjoy a hint of gunpowder or brimstone in my whisky – particularly if the distillate is weighty or meaty. Others are less forgiving – go visit Vin at No Nonsense Whisky and you’ll quickly realise that he could probably detect a volcano on a different continent – whilst suffering a cold. But, nevertheless my past experiences with Arran’s Devil’s Punch Bowl Chapter 3 had revealed sulphur on a level that even I was uncomfortable with it. And then I sat down for this review, and found that some months later the bottle had miraculously improved. Pre-written review out the window.
The third and final chapter of Arran’s Devil’s Punchbowl series (not to be confused with Bowmore’s Devil’s Cask – which I seem to do on a regular basis) is subtitled ‘The Fiendish Finale’. Previous iterations have played with both unpeated and peated Arran spirit, but this edition changes things up with the introduction of some French oak barriques at the expense of the peated casks. As with its predecessors, Punch Bowl3 is composed of quite the selection of casks – 21 in total – all listed on the inside ‘door’ of the presentation box. 8 sherry butts, 8 French oak barriques and 5 bourbon barrels have been combined (no distillation dates are provided) to produce 6,660 bottles at an ABV of 53.4%.
Originally priced at around £77 when it was released back in 2014, you’ll now need to explore the often illogical world of auctions to pick up a bottle. But, the price that you’ll end up paying for this limited edition Arran seems pretty variable – recently auctions have produced results between a slightl premium of £90 all the way up to a rather less appetising £140. Unsurprisingly, the real money seems to be on the first release of the series or complete sets of all three bottles.
As noted above, when I first tried this it was packed full of hellfire. I regularly see whiskies criticised for a sulphurous taint, and this is usually immediately blamed on the use of candles (for antibacterial fumigation pre refilling). To my mind this is all too often an assumption based on industry chatter rather than fact. The use of sulphur candles has dramatically diminished over the past decade, and indeed, sulphites are a natural by-product of production - binding to the proteins formed during distillation. Candles should not be your go to hypothesis – think about the distillate and the precursor liquids used. Nevertheless, the detectable presence of sulphur in whisky, especially those that previously contained sherry or wine is widely acknowledged.
My bottle of Punch Bowl3 was opened last autumn, a few drams sampled and shared taking the level to down below the neck. Four months of quiet sitting have had a dramatic effect on this whisky – not only has the initial sulphurous taint all but dissipated, but indeed, the overarching fruity flavours have become more expansive and expressive. There’s a good reason why I try not to review the first dram taken from a bottle. Punch Bowl3 is a case in point for second chances.
Nose: An animated and aromatic opening that delivers a sugary selection of fruits – blackberry compote, raspberry Eton mess and sharp blood orange liqueur. Caramel and milk chocolate sit with vanilla cheesecake and are livened by earthy peppy spices – cinnamon in particular, but also pepper, and in the background some salty minerality. There’s still a hint of struck match here, but its faint and passes completely after a few minutes in the glass. Reduction adds gingerbread, an increasing zestiness (grapefruit?) and some toasted cereals and oatcakes.
Taste: The mouthfeel is oily and thick with an intense delivery of sweet reduced fruits – red berries, grapes and plums. Dark chocolate, red moscato dessert wine and umeshu are joined by cinnamon, pepper and ginger spicing and overt sugariness. The mid-palate introduces more cask influence with gentle oak and vanilla alongside musty wine cellars and an earthiness that transposes into sharper minerality in the back-palate. The addition of water really emphasises the red and dark fruit elements – strawberries, raspberries and blackberries – whilst some unctuousness in the mouth is lost, the big fruitiness returned is worth the experiment.
Finish: Medium to long with fading cinnamon and pepper spicing.
Waiting to review Arran’s Devil’s Punch Bowl Chapter 3 was clearly a good move – it’s a significantly improved (and significantly different) proposition to what it was last autumn. The combination of casks utilised here result in sprawling aromas and flavours which offer a good level of intensity and complexity. Fruitiness is the order of the day, and that’s delivered throughout. Perhaps it’s a little too saccharine in places and there certainly is still a hint of gunpowder (but it’s now to my senses far from conspicuous) – nevertheless tasty solid stuff. Third part, second chance.
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