Did William Grant & Sons just create another Cocktail Whisky?
Not so long ago there was a lot of noise being made by a brand called Monkey Shoulder. Back then they were breaking ground by making a Blended Malt Whisky designed for mixing. Some time before that the same company launched an unusual gin called Hendrick’s which served in a G&T with a piece of cucumber could be argued to be responsible for starting the current Gin boom that seems be showing no signs of slowing down.
Safe to say William Grant & Sons are no stranger to breaking to mould, or pioneering new trends so when I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of their new peated Whisky called Ailsa Bay I was interested to see what they were up too.
A renowned Speyside brand launching a peated Whisky seems like an unconventional idea.
After a fantastic evening at the Sydney launch event I can happily report that Ailsa Bay is not a traditional another Whisky. Its made in the lowlands, but has a smoky character. It works well as a sipping whisky but it well balanced flavours make it very approachable to mix with. They have stepped past the confines of the “rules” of their industry and created something unique to their region and to the Whisky market as a whole.
If your not a big whisky nerd then then let me simply say: its approachable, easy to mix and delicious.
As always let’s get straight to business with a cocktail recipe. Ailsa Bay have two suggested served and a nice simple Highball seems like a good place to start.
Ailsa Bay Eventide Tonic
Highball Glass Cubed Ice
45ml Ailsa Bar
60ml Cold Drip Coffee
Fill with Premium Tonic Water
Garnish Keep Calm and Cocktail Burnt Orange & Edible flowers.
Build ingredients into a Highball glass and serve.
Now you’ve got something to sip on lets get into it.
Breaking Regional Boundaries
Ailsa Bay’s parent company, William Grant & Sons are known for making light, floral Speyside style whiskies such as Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Monkey Shoulder.
It could easily be assumed that Ailsa Bay has been introduced to simply fill ranks in their portfolio. To tick a box and start to make roads into the smoky Islay Whisky market share.
Whilst smoky whisky is nothing new, Ailsa Bay breaks from tradition at every possible turn and it’s wonderful to see that such a successful company isn’t content to sit on their previous successes, there using the position as market leaders to push the industry and pioneer new trends.
Speaking to Ailsa Bay’s Brand Ambassador James Macrae it seems as if they questioned every stage of the Whisky making process with and attitude of “what if”.
What If we launch our first peated whisky?
What if we use all of the technology available to use to help in the distilling process?
What if we reverse the cask finishing process and start the maturation in a tiny bourbon barrel from Hudson distilleries?
What if we age the whisky in new, virgin American oak barrels rather than the typical reused option?
What if we create a measurement unit and declare the level sweetness and smokiness on our bottle?
Needless to say, this is a powerful mindset.
When you look at the label on a bottle of Ailsa Bay you’ll see eight letters.
SPPM & PPPM
This is the first whisky to be measured by Sweet Parts Per Million (SPPM) and Peat Parts Per Million (PPPM). If these are adopted by the whisky industry these markers allow the drinker to have more confidence in what they can expect in the bottle, in a similar vain to which IBU is used in the craft beer scene. It’s hard to know whether this will be adopted by any of the other distillers but I’m definitely a fan of the idea.
SSSM is a brand-new measurement created by Master Blender Brian Kinsman designed to create an exact definition to the sweetness of the whisky. To be clear there is no sugar in this whisky. The source of the sweetness comes from the interaction with Oak compounds wooded barrels in which it’s aging in particular the choice of Virgin American Oak something that is usually used for aging bourbon.
PPPM is nothing new but again Ailsa Bay have their own innovative take on it. Typically, PPPM measure after the barley has been peated, Ailsa Bay on the other had measure the peat levels after maturation giving a truer account for the bottle peatiness. This means that the scale still has some way to go before it can be completely dependable, but lets work with what we have.
Ailsa Bay at 22 PPPM comes in as “moderately peated”. For reference Lagavulin comes in at 37 PPPM and Laphroaig at 45 PPPM
What even is peat?
Peat is essentially decomposing vegetation that is dug up from beneath the topsoil. If it were left for a few thousand more years it would end up as coal. Fortunately the whisky industry realised that it burns in a way that produces a smoke full of character that can be used for drying the barley in the first stages of whisky production. Due to the fact that its made of vegetation, peat is never the same in two places. Varying species of plant life growing in the area will lead to different characteristics of peat.
Ailsa Bar is the only lowland distillery producing a peated (smoky) Scotch. Typically lowland distilleries produce light and floral whiskies. Smoky peated whiskies are made in and around Islay on Scotlands west coast. Using highland peat gives the smoke a completely different character to heavy Islay Whisky’s this gives a different style of smoke and leaves Ailsa Bay with what James Macrae describes as “Perfectly balanced with a bonfire style of smoke”
Tasting notes are available here https://www.ailsabay.com/
If you’ve made it this far then its time for another drink! This is a good one
Cherry and Smoke
Rocks Glass Cubed Ice
45ml Ailsa Bay
15ml Amaro Montenegro
15ml Fino Sherry
20ml Crawley’s Raspberry Syrup
Garnish with an edible green leaf, or what ever else you fancy!
Combine all your ingredients in and stirring glass (or tin) Add ice and stir and strain into your glass over fresh ice.
Ailsa Bay takes two unusual approached regarding aging. For starters they have taken the idea of cask finishing and flipped it on its head.
Cask finishing is the technique that has become fashionable in the past few years. After aging the whiskey is “finished” in a different barrel, typically something carrying a complimentary flavour such as Sherry, beer or rum.
Ailsa Bay starts with this step aging in tiny 25-100 litre Hudson bourbon casks for anywhere from 9 months up too 3 years. This is about half the size of a typical cask and enables a fast aging process due to more contact with the surface of the wooden barrel.
The whisky is then moved into either Virgin (brand new) American Oak casks, first fill bourbon casks or refill Scotch Whisky casks. The fresh wood in the virgin oak is a major contributor to what imparts the sweetness on the Whisky, something that would be more typically associated with Bourbon than Scotch.
Its probably clear how excited I am about this new bottle. If you want to try it out for yourself its available in Australia from Vintage Cellars, LiquorLand and First Choice Liquor for an RRP of $99