Origin: Lowlands (Scotland)
Type: Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Ageing barrels: 9 months in ex-Hudson Whiskey, ex-Bourbon
Added coloring: No
Owner: William Grant & Sons
Average price: € 60.00
Official website: www.ailsabay.com
The Bevitore Squattrinato has already talked about the Lowlands in his review of Auchentoshan 12: I invite you to read it again, both to get some geographical information on the area and perhaps to rediscover an excellent whisky often snubbed by most.
Ailsa Bay, however, is a different case: nominally, it’s an experimental whisky line of William Grant & Sons, but in fact it’s also the site of their largest and most advanced distillery, built in Girvan in 2006, right opposite the amazing Ailsa Craig massif. We’re talking a mega plant with 16 stills and 14 million litres a year!
Obviously, these litres are used to produce the most varied bottlings of the large group, the third largest in the world after Pernod Ricard and Diageo, including even Hendrick’s gin, while the production of this bottling is decidedly more limited.
As is evident from the name, this is the second batch in the line under the Ailsa Bay name (unfortunately I didn’t get to try the first). In the handsome bottle we find a NAS of 22 ppm peat alongside an equally similar level of sweetness – hence the name Sweet Smoke – and ‘micro-matured’ in small Hudson Whiskey casks (part of the same property). By ‘micro’, it’s meant that the smaller size of the casks facilitated a greater, and therefore in theory faster and more intense, exchange with the spirit. In practice, however, the spirit is only kept in these 25-100 litre casks for nine months and then passed into an unspecified variety of virgin, first and second passage casks.
Let’s see what happens once in the glass.
It’s a beautiful pale gold colour that immediately invites you to take the glass to your nose.
The definition Sweet Smoke definitely lives up to its name: sweet and smoky tones alternate smoothly in a tasty exchange of dried apple and sea breeze. Not bad at all: you can understand the technical ability of the great group, but also the good intuition of proposing a different product and really capable of combining in name and in fact the sweetness of Lowlands with the smokiness of Islay.
On the palate, however, things change and there are fewer compromises. It’s initially very salty and smoky, with a dry, pungent taste. After the peaty explosion, which is definitely more intense in the mouth than on the nose, the sip opens up into softer, citrusy tones, with a light toasted almond and a little cinnamon. The persistence is medium, with a peppery smoke that continues to soar against a background of green apple and citrus essential oils.
Very smoke, not very sweet. Some people like it…
…and I liked it!
Young, but with great character, and it clearly shows all the technology of one of the most advanced distilleries in the world. The nose is really interesting, and in the mouth it can easily satisfy the strongest palates. However, those who expect something softer and more refined might be disappointed: it doesn’t allow for much sweetness and remains hard and cold. This is a serious consideration if you like peat and don’t want to stick to Islay. For everyone else, however, it could be a good way to test yourself with an unexplored geographical and aromatic territory.