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Ailsa Bay

Ailsa Bay

Ailsa Bay may be a new name to many, but this distillery which is owned by William Grant & Sons was actually established in 2007. Its mission was to provide...

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Ailsa Bay

Ailsa Bay may be a new name to many, but this distillery which is owned by William Grant & Sons was actually established in 2007. Its mission was to provide much needed spirit to the increasingly popular range of Grant’s blended scotches and thereby relieve the pressure on their existing distilleries. These are namely Balvenie and Glenfiddich, which enjoy massive international appeal as single malts with Ailsa Bay on paper capable of producing a similar spirit to Balvenie.

The distillery is located amidst the Girvan grain complex in Ayrshire, making it a Lowland distillery. The practicalities of establishing a distillery almost within a distillery are noted and for blenders these offer convenience, accessibility and reduced costs. Historians will know that Girvan once hosted a malt distillery known as Ladyburn that came online in 1966, but by 1975 had closed for good following a drop in demand for whisky. Ailsa Bay is located on the former site of this rare distillery and was itself constructed in a mere 9 months, which was around the same length of time it took to build Girvan in 1963.

This feat of engineering is made even more impressive by the realisation that Ailsa Bay is not a 2 still minor operation. Instead it has a capacity of 12 million litres annually which puts in on a similar footing to the Glenlivet and Glen Ord; two massive distilleries that produce spirit for rival blends thanks to an expansion in 2013. In total Ailsa Bay now consists of 16 stills that are an impressive sight lined up in uniform fashion within a large still room. Whilst the distillery is not open to the public, if you have ever visited the still room at Glenfiddich, then this will give you a similar sense of scale.

The distillery offers William Grant & Sons a producer but also the opportunity for experimentation along the lines of the role that the Glen Keith distillery once provided for Chivas Brothers. For instance, it is capable of producing five styles of new make spirit that are often vatted together to produce something even more unique. It’s core everyday spirits are a light Speyside style spirit after a period of 72 hours’ fermentation, but it’s also capable of producing a heavier, robust style with a shorter fermentation time.

The peated style of spirit that created its debut single malt release in 2015 is only produced at the distillery for 7 days of the year. The No Age Statement whisky which is commonly referred to as Batch 1 is a wonderfully designed bottle featuring a piece of granite from the nearby isle of Ailsa Craig. Curling enthusiasts will recognise this island as being the only place where the raw material for the best curling stones is extracted. The elaborate bottle design offers map coordinates on the neck and this is how you distinguish between the Batch 1 and the Batch 2 release. The original coordinates mistakenly pointed you towards a random hill near Stirling and this was corrected for follow-up release. Both are otherwise identical and have proved very popular with whisky enthusiasts seeking to experience this former hidden distillery.

Originally matured in small casks from Hudson Bay distillery, which are around 25-100 litres in size for a period of up to 9 months. The spirit is then transferred into traditional American oak casks for the remainder of its maturation period. The whisky at this point is micro matured, which translates as it comes under close observation and if a cask isn’t having the necessary effect, the spirit is moved once more. What Aisla Bay will release next is unknown, but given the track record of this distillery for experimentation and a new modern approach, we await the next surprise from Master Blender Brian Kinsman.

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