56.4°N, 4.2°W. By following the coordinates stated on the bottleneck, one finds himself at the shores of Loch Earn in the middle of the Scottish Hinglands. This first bottling by Ailsa Bay (pronounced Elsa Bay) is, with this small error, an immediate collector’s item. Let’s try this again. Coordinates 55.2618°N 4.8335°W. Scotland’s South Ayrshire, Lowland. Inside the Girvan grain whisky distillery founded in 1963 locates the smaller distillery of Ailsa Bay, which has been active only as of 2007. Ailsa Bay, owned by William Grant & Sons, produces a variety of different styles of whiskies, which are used in various products in the W. Grant & Sons portfolio. Where as Ailsa Bay is still in its infancy, the Girvan distillery is known for Hendrick’s Gin as well as for producing grain whiskies used in various blends.
A firework of nuances
So what exactly is this stuff called Ailsa Bay? For starters it’s full of tremendous small nuances, which hit a whisky freak in the sweet spot. AB’s first commercial bottling seems to be a well orchestrated precision strike at whisky freaks. Availability only in the UK, Sweden, Norway and Finland, lid made out of the same marble, which is used to make curling stones, a smoky Lowland (this is quite rare), false coordinates on the bottle neck and the use of as many as four barrels in the maturation process. A grand firework of nuances!
Measurements for peatieness and sweetness – divergent from the industry norm
In the midst of the firework of nuances, the methodology behind the way phenol content is presented is also made divergent from the industry norm: Ailsa Bay’s phenol content is measured from the finished liquid where the industry norm is to measure the content from dried and malted barley. In addition to the peated range of AnCnoc, Ailsa Bay is the only whisky in the market in which the phenol content is presented in a way that contrasts the industry standard. The reason behind this is that by taking the measurement from the liquid, the actual phenol content can be measured more accurately and realisticly.
In addition to the phenol content (PPM), Ailsa Bay also has an SPPM value for Sweet Particles Per Million. This measurement was created by William Grant & Sons master distiller Brian Kinsman to indicate the sweetness of a whisky. A splendid measure as in the case of Ailsa Bay, the whisky actually is quite sweet! By stating both the peatiness and the sweetness of a whisky, the manufacturer can inform the consumer about the characteristics of the product, thus guiding the consumer’s decision making process. Kinsman wants to educate the consumer so that it is easier to know what sort of whisky one is buying.
Micro maturated and multi-barreled
The maturation process of Ailsa Bay is quite untraditional as it has been aged in as many as four different barrels and by micro maturation. By this I don’t mean that Kinsman has shoved the barrels to a microwave oven in the distillery’s cafeteria. Micro maturation is the process of aging a distillate for 6-9 months in small 25-100 liter Hudson Baby Bourbon barrels (in small barrels the distillate matures faster). After this the liquid is transferred to both virgin and re-fill American oak barrels for several years. Ailsa Bay is the first distillery in Scotland to use this type of microwave-maturation.
As a small and interesting nuance, Kinsman makes Ailsa Bay with a Japanese twist. Where normally liquids from different barrels are blended together, in Ailsa Bays case the two different distillates are blended together prior to being transferred to barrels. The conclusion is that the character of the whisky is not solely based on the variables of barrel and aging.
A bullseye in flavor
The story and the nuances in Ailsa Bay are well honed and the taste is in no way being outshown. A smoky Lowland per se is enough to try this whisky but in addition to this, AB has been made to a fantastic balance between smoke and sweetness. The nose, palate and finish are all well balanced and neither falls short of the other. The holy trinity of whisky is well in balance. The body of Ailsa Bay is quite robust and complex so I wouldn’t lose my whisky virginity to this product. The combination of smoke, sugared salmiakki, smoked bacon, cinnamon buns and sappy sweetness of a dried out Startburst is a package one needs to chew on a little bit. Personally, the image I have of AB in my head is of a Laphroaig QA but with actual and intense taste. A bold comparison but this is what my senses tell me.
If a genuinely different smokeysweet dram is your “shtick”, go grab a bottle!
Smoke, sappy sweetness of a dried out Startburst, vanilla, bacon, cinnamon buns.
Smoked bacon, sweetness, vanilla, dry cinnamon.
Smoky, dry, sweet. A bit of cinnamon buns in the very end.
Suitable for beginners?
Quite smoky and intense. For those after a smokebomb in their mouth but perhaps too robust and intense for the beginner.
Suitable for the enthusiasts?
Definitely! Different and very interesting!
Re-Fill Bourbon, First Fill Bourbon, Virgin Oak, Ex-Hudson Baby Bourbon.
Where can I get it?
The UK, Sweden, Norway, Finland. Some online merchants also carry it.