Review : Ailsa Bay 1.2 Sweet Smoke

A smoky lowland whisky is almost unheard of if you were to go by the traditional sense, but ever since its first single malt release back in 2016, the Ailsa Bay distillery has continued to deviate from this norm. Though single malts aren’t really their forte, the distillery introduced their second release – The ‘Ailsa Bay 1.2 Sweet Smoke’ which promises to deliver a more smokier and sweeter experience than its predecessor.

The bottling is distinct and unique, a lure, tempting the oblivious mind looking through liquor shelves in a hunt to savour something different. The shape reminds me of a ‘hybrid jar’ straight out of a chemistry lab – the broad neck, the slender test tube like body and the larger than usual bottle top. The spirit is matured for nine months in smaller than usual ex-bourbon casks, encouraging aging considering the larger surface area the new make spirit has to interact with. The distillery is one of the first to micro mature their spirits, a technique to infuse a variety of flavours one over the other.

Another highlight from this little heard haven, is the numbers neatly splashed across its labeling. These figures open the possibility of how technology can be an enabler, allowing for a greater appreciation for whisky, and a more consistent approach to not only understanding your tuple but also providing for a means to better compare between the multitude of expressions available. This whisky in particular has a phenol count of 22 ppm, with a measure of sweetness equaling 19 ppm. What is interesting here are the junctures at which these were measured – post maturation; a stark deviation from the current techniques where pppm is usually measured prior to the mashing process and hence the latter being somewhat flawed technique to describing the actual peatiness of a whisky.

With a lot affecting the level of peat from mash to bottling, only around 30 – 40% of the original strength translates to the final product. Fermentation times, pot still shapes, distillation times, cutting points, the influence of weather and wood over the whisky during maturation, greatly bears on the whisky’s peaty character. So your heavily peated Ardbeg with a phenol ppm count of around 50 would in reality be at best around 15-20.

Bottled on 17th Dec, 2018; #6882

ABV: 48.9%

Eye: Old Gold

Nose: Nutty and sweet with a mellow buttery nuance, trailed by grassy hay and earthy peat. Cantaloupe with subtle nuances of wood polish are soon followed by white pepper and licorice with a hint of leather.

Taste: Mildly sweet, with smoke and peat gradually taking up most of the palate. There’s a bit of wood and charred caramel that makes advances after this initial delivery of peat, and this evolves into a sweetness rich in maple syrup, dried fruits and cocoa. A bit of spice is felt towards the end from green pepper and ginger shavings.

Finish: Medium | Medicinal peat cuddled with caramel and pepper.

The Ailsa Bay exhibits a lovely play of sweetness that echoes tropical fruits and caramel emerging from its love for peat and charred wood. It’s light and delightful to sip on with sweetness that isn’t over the top but beautifully balanced finding its place in the midst with all that peat.

Priced in the higher 90s, is it a better bet than a Ardbeg or Laphroaig? Maybe not, but close and hence a worth the grab, especially if you are willing to ignore the fact that this is a NAS whisky from a relatively young distillery.

Preference : Neat or with a few mls of water to soften the high strength.

Sláinte!

PS : The bottle comes with a barcode that lets you know the bottle number and the year of bottling!

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