Ailsa Bay

Last night I was lucky enough to attend the Scottish launch of the new Ailsa Bay whisky from William Grant & Sons at Usquabae Bar in Edinburgh.

It’s easy to dismiss NAS Whiskies as cheap alternatives and let’s face it, is there a working distillery that doesn’t produce some kind of peated expression as part of a limited run? (OK, there are a few here and there but you get my point) so I’m sure there will be those who have already made their mind up about this dram already as it seems a combination of both these factors.

I’ve not previously written much on the NAS debate so I suppose it’s time to make my point. 

Companies who replace their entry level malts with a NAS alternative and charge the same, or a higher, price then give it a fancy sounding title are taking advantage of customers. A perfect example of this would be The Glenlivet Founders Reserve.

I feel that if you are making a NAS whisky then it really, really, really needs to be character led, rather than driven by cost considerations or as a shortcut to the market.

Ailsa Bay may well be a NAS whisky, partially forged by the desire of Wm Grant and Sons to add a peated malt to its portfolio for blending but does it stand up to scrutiny as a product in its own right? 

Ailsa Bay, NAS, 48.9%abv, OB (Available here)


On the nose it’s pleasantly smoky and sweet (but never phenolic) with a slight nuttyness and to its credit seems quite mild for a whisky a shade under 50%abv. A little bit of pineapple leaves, green apple and grass becomes prominent after the smoke clears.

The palate is quite dry, actually it’s very dry. Right at the front of the palate. Smoke turns to ash, which turns sweet and only then moves into a spice laden finish. Think burnt vanilla pods mixed with undertones of faint creme brûlée and cloves leading to some serious tea like tannins. There are some malty, nutty notes here too along with the return of the fruits found in the palate. 

The finish is remarkably long but light smoke lingers pleasantly alongside the spices we found on the palate. The sweeter elements of the dram have dissapated. Again the higher abv and the younger whisky is not providing the sharpness or aggression you might expect. 

There is quite a lot going on in the glass here in terms of width and depth.

Well worth putting on your ‘to try’ lists.

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