Girvan distillery is an industrial workhorse meant to ensure that blends have plenty of inexpensive, age-stated single grain whisky. Full stop.
However, upon the same site you’ll find a new distillery, started in 2007. It’s name? Not Albert Einstein this time. Ailsa Bay creates four different single malt distillates, the majority of which all disappear into Grant’s blended whisky. So you may have drunk Ailsa Bay and not known it.
What we have then is a distillery that makes whisky for their region (the Lowlands): This is not triple distilled, it’s not aiming to give you flowers, and they use peat.
Now they aren’t the only distillery in the Lowlands to currently use peat, and as a peathead who loves Lowland whiskies it seems like the perfect Reese’s moment for me. Also I like Reese’s, which is going to be annoying when I eventually read their parent company’s war crimes.
So Ailsa Bay makes four different distillates, peats at least one of them to 22 PPM. Also they measure SPPM, meant to measure the sweetness, and give it a number of 019 SPPM. Finally they use the new world version of aging, where they place the new spirit into 25-100 litres first-fill ex-Hudson Baby Bourbon casks for a six to nine months and then move it into traditional (200+ litre) casks. What does that all convert to imperial, for the Americans? I don’t know nor care, learn a real system.
So for my first time trying this distillery we have Ailsa Bay Ceres I 9 2011 Scotch Universe. It wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t a) cask strength b) from an independent bottling before the easier to find official bottling and c) wasn’t a single cask.
So this has been aged in ex-First Fill Madeira wine casks. We don’t know which of the four distillates this comes from. I frankly have no idea what to expect.
Let’s see how it tastes, shall we?
Price: € 65
Cask type: First Fill Madeira Wine Barrique
Colour: 2.5Y ⅞
Nose: Hazelnut, brine, white grape, honey, [with water] Amaretto
If you’ve had Lowlands before, you may be expecting flowers, citrus, and even some metallic notes. Ignore that for the time being.
Instead we have bright grape, nuttiness, some saltiness and honey. So of course I”m on board. Nothing here is blowing my mind, and you could argue the amount of sweet notes is too high. I’m not going to because I love sweets too much. Water seemingly brings it together, and you end up with this almond/cherry/Amaretto note that I’m all in on.
Taste: Orange, hazelnut, ground ginger, almond butter, basil
Oh, there’s the citrus! As this is my first time with Ailsa Bay, I would have to only guess that the nuttiness, spicy, and even some of the herbal notes are coming from the Madeira cask.
So the question starts being: Is this the cask, and if so, does it matter if it’s from Ailsa Bay? Or is it Patrick?
Away from that I’m getting that wine cask bomb flavour going on here. So a Madeira bomb. Make sure you read that out while traveling for the holidays (don’t travel it’s a pandemic), it’ll go over well.
Finish: Cranberry, cinnamon, chipotle, butter, [with water] cashew butter
Spice, cranberry, very Xmas appropriate, or at least adjacent. Some heat, some smoke, some butter. And again, water added brings different elements together quite nicely.
Conclusion: Quite the chameleon! Lovely bitter Aperitif. Look forward to more from this distillery. Maybe in an ex-Bourbon cask next time, to get a better idea.
If you picked up this specific whisky blind, you’d be happy, assuming you like Madeira cask whisky. If you grabbed it and don’t, I mean… it’s your money, but dude, why?
I fear that it’s been taken over by the cask a bit too much. That said the ability for it to pivot when you add water won me over. It was nice to sip on, nice to enjoy the “winter” with (no snow near me so it’s Autumn in my head). I think as long as you like citrus, nuttiness, and that spice heat, then you’ll be happy to drink this.
Scotch review #1473, Lowland review #64, Whisky Network review #2176