Review: Ailsa Bay Batch 1

Category: Lowland single malt scotch whisky

Origin: Ailsa Bay Distillery (Girvan)

Bottling: William Grant & Sons

ABV: 48.9%

Cost: £53.95 from Master of Malt

ailsa-bay-single-malt-whisky

What they say:

Peter Gordon, director of William Grant & Sons and great great grandson of its founder William Grant, pioneered the distillery and its inaugural single malt, saying it “very specifically” marks the firm’s play in peated whisky.

Said to embody a “unique balance of smoke and sweetness” which “occupies a new space on the flavour map”, Ailsa Bay is the result of the distillery’s peated distillation run, which takes place for just two weeks out the year.

One week, the distillery produces a lightly peated run, and the other week a heavily peated run – liquid from which has been used for this new release.

“With Ailsa Bay, we wanted to create a very heavily peated whisky with all of the sweetness and smokiness we could muster, but also dial down on some of the medicinal notes that characterise some peated whiskies,” said Gordon.

“Ailsa Bay is a testament to our whisky-making expertise and the skills of our master blender Brian Kinsman. We invest heavily in keeping the innovation conveyor belt going. Hopefully, we can do this in a pioneering way that respects the traditions that our family has passed down through the generations.”

Built in 2007 on the Girvan Distillery complex in the Scottish Lowlands, Ailsa Bay consists of 16 stills – with wash stills and spirit stills both the same style and size – and also uses four stainless steel condensers to create a “different flavour”.

The site’s primary function is to provide liquid for William Grant’s broader Scotch portfolio, but also forms a significant part of the company’s innovation strategy, allowing master blender Brian Kinsman the ability to “isolate and control more elements from the distillation, to maturation, to filtration process”.

Four different casks

The single malt whisky itself is a combination of liquid from four different casks: refill American oak, first fill Bourbon, new oak and Baby Bourbon casks from the Hudson Distillery in New York.

“We had an idea to turn the cask finishing idea on its head,” added Kinsman. “Rather than finishing with Baby Bourbon casks, we are starting with these. We mature for a certain period of time but couldn’t keep the liquid here for a long time as it would be too powerful.”

The whisky does not carry an age statement, but its liquid will not be older than eight or nine years since the distillery opened in 2007.

Gordon said while he believes Ailsa Bay will “always be no-age-statement” the brand may release an unpeated expression on the future.

He said of William Grant’s ambitions in the peated Scotch category: “We tinkered with Glenfiddich but didn’t want to confuse it, and then we tried to buy a distillery famous for its peated malt, but that didn’t work out so we decided to build our own.

“This is very specifically our play in the peated area. What this is doing is saying location has nothing to do with flavour.”

TW Ailsa Bay

What I say:

Another new distillery and also from William Grant & Sons, the Ailsa Bay distillery built on the Girvan site is apparently a replica of The Balvenie stillhouse and it was intended that output replace Balvenie in Grants blended whisky (so not that far removed from the Kininvie we last reviewed). Using these ‘Balvenie’ stills they can apparently manufacture 4 different types of new make spirit including estery, nutty, fruity and heavily peated. It is from the last category that they have bottled their first single malt. And why not? Kilchoman have shown that good quality young peated whisky is very drinkable. Here Ailsa Bay quote a phenol parts per million (ppm) of 21 in their distilled spirit and a sweets ppm of 11 using a novel measurement system introduced by Brian Kinsman allowing the balance of peat and sweet to be measured and presented on the bottle.

Colour:

Light straw gold (6/20) small droplet tears with fine legs

Nose:

Cereal barley malt and icing sugar, dry, chalky, love heart sweeties, sweet and gentle peat smoke, fresh fruits; melon, pear, grape, lime and lemon

Taste:

Sweet and peaty, lively and youthfull, refreshing lemon and lime foam with bandaid sticking plasters, hospital iodine, furniture polish, ashtray dregs, oily and buttery, vanilla and melon sorbet a touch of toffee’d oak wood and corsodyl original medicated mouthwash (clove oil?)

Finish:

Medium-long, sweet and gentle earthen peat smoke

Overall:

Well balanced, sweet and peaty (a lot like Kilchoman) but more approachable/accessible, there is not that depth of phenolic and salty Islay peat here as there can be in Kilchoman. This is a well manufactured malt and I really enjoyed drinking this one but a closer inspection reveals the youthfull cracks that have been covered by surreptitious peat usage. One to watch out for though as I suspect later batches of Ailsa Bay will build quality onto this solid base.

Score: 82/100

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