Monday, February 29, 2016
Review - Ailsa Bay
Ailsa Bay was founded in 2007 by William Grant & Sons to supply single malt whisky for their popular Grant's blended Scotch range. It is the company's fourth single malt distillery behind Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. Whisky can be made in three different styles at Ailsa Bay - light/fresh, rich/sweet and peaty. The peaty version has been chosen for this inaugural release. The distillery is located on the site of the former Ladyburn distillery on the outskirts of the coastal Ayrshire town of Girvan.
As a new distillery, Girvan is one of the most eco-friendly in Scotland and most of the energy is recycled back through the system. It is large with an annual capacity of 12 million litres. The still room has eight pairs of stills. Each is modelled on the stills at Balvenie, Ailsa Bay's Speyside sister distillery, and run into an impressive octagonal spirit safe located in the centre. We were lucky to visit Ailsa Bay back in 2010 during its very early years - click here to read more facts and our review of the visit.
Ailsa Bay carries no age statement and is bottled at 48.9% ABV. Ailsa Bay has been available since November in various Scandanavian markets but has now been officially launched in the UK. It will be available through selected specialist whisky retailers and has a recommended retail price of £55 per bottle.
Our tasting notes
The colour is golden and the nose has an enticing mix of punchy peat smoke and delicate, fresh sweetness. The smoke has an acrid medicinal aroma, which is most reminiscent of coal tar soap and antiseptic bandages with a hint of damp moss. The sweetness is driven by aromas of honey, icing sugar and vanilla with background hints of candied lemon, fresh cereal cookies and dried pear.
On the palate the whisky feels light in texture but is immediate smoky and vibrant. The smoke begins sweet and peaty but moves towards having a more bitter edge with time. The damp mossy note from the nose is evident, as is an ashy bonfire-like note. This evolves to be more reminiscent of coal tar soap. The sweetness initially battles with the smokiness and loses, but perseveres and fights its way through. There is a lovely combination of honey and golden syrup characteristics that kick this off, followed by sweet malty cereals and vanilla. This create a superb balance, which is accentuated by tart candied lemon note and hints of cinnamon, ginger and green chilli.
The finish is long, smoky and increasingly dry and warming. This is especially true once the honey and golden syrup elements fade. The cinnamon-like wood spices come to play more and the smoky has a definitive ashy dryness to it.
What's the verdict?
The Ailsa Bay is a very promising first release from the distillery. It has a delicious balance of sweetness and smokiness, although this is not initially the case and takes time to develop. However, it is worth the short wait though. If you like mid-peated range Islay whiskies (such as Bowmore, Caol Ila or Kilchoman) then you will like this. It is very good.
William Grant have also taken an interesting decision to have Ailsa Bay as a peaty whisky - this is different to what is considered as the traditional Lowland, which is widely regarded as light and delicate. Ailsa Bay has these quality but with a decent amount of smoke added. It demonstrates the diversity of William Grant's styles and distilleries, and compliments the rest of their portfolio.