Ailsa Bay - a deconstruction
A few weeks back, early March of this year, I got to visit the Ailsa Bay distillery (see travel report). One great part of that visit was to attend a tasting of the Ailsa Bay whisky, and not just any tasting. Brian Kinsman, the Malt Master at William Grant & Sons, took us through a deconstruction of the whisky. We got to try four 'component whiskies' that are all parts of the end product. We also got to taste two other cask samples from the distillery, that were not representing any component of the current Ailsa Bay product.
I came prepared and had brought sample bottles. This is how I can now sit at home, in peace and quiet and do the whole deconstruction again, using the first four cask samples.
All the samples were straight from the cask, and at 58-60 % in ABV. Age and cask number was not revealed for any of the samples. They are all at 21 ppm phenols in the bottle.
Sample 1: Refill American oak cask
Rich, sweet and peaty. I imagine this is the base, the body of the Ailsa Bay. It has a surprisingly peaty and sweet finish. Absolutely lovely. The finish is quite long, with a lovely chewy and gritty finale with chilli, vanilla and simple syrup.
Sample 2: 1st fill bourbon cask
More vanilla now. It also appears warmer and more spicy on the nose. To taste it is just as peaty, but the sweetness is now more chocolate and vanilla. There is also some aniseed and pepper here.
Sample 3: Born in a Hudson baby bourbon cask then transferred to a refill bourbon cask
Sweet with ginger mixed in. More oak now, and the peat is not as massive on the nose. Very smooth and oily on the palate. The peat is very much present when you taste it. There's some fruity sweetness here balancing the oak and the peat, but not a whole lot else. Relatively short finish.
Sample 4: Virgin American oak cask
Wow! This is a gem! This could easily be released as a product on its own. Lovely rich sweetness on the nose. A candy store on fire! Amazingly long finish for such a young whisky. Sweet licorice on the finish. Peaty and massively sweet. The sweetness here is richer, and has more fruitiness to it. Creamy and delightful!
Ailsa Bay, NAS, 48,9 %
You can buy the Ailsa Bay in Norway at NOK 849 (3787201). I have it on good authority that this price will be adjusted to 699 in May this year.
This whisky is already sold out in Sweden, where they had 468 bottles at SEK 795, and in the UK at where it sold at around GBP 50.
Nose (22/25): A fresh and sweet nose. There is a fair amount of peat and smoke here, and it manifests primarily as wood smoke, cold ashes and a touch of incense. After a while in the glass, a new smoky aroma appears - that of raw, smoked bacon. It is quite fruity (I'm thinking fresh citrus, in particular lemon zest), and sweet. I also pick up notes of vanilla, mild caramel, the crust of bread straight out of the oven and wet sawdust. It is very rich and aromatic. I know it is young, but it presents itself as quite mature and well-balanced.
Taste (22/25): Rich and full mouthfeel. It feels maybe a little younger on the palate, but it is still a very fine dram. Sugary ashes, liquid wood smoke, caramel and vanilla. The fruitiness is more in the background at first, but I detect some orange notes. There's a hint of smoked bacon to the taste as well.
Finish (21/25): Medium long finish. The oranges are still here, and the smokiness is now more like the ashes of cinnamon sticks sprinkled with demerara sugar.
Balance (22/25): A very fine first effort from Ailsa Bay, I think. I love the balance between sweetness and peatiness here. Since this is exactly what they have tried to create, I would say they have nailed it on the first attempt. Where to next?
Sláinte! - Thomas
PS! Please note that the samples used in this deconstruction were obtained during a press trip sponsored by William Grant & Sons. All the text and the opinions are my own, but you deserve to know.