• Nick Veale

Did William Grant & Sons just create another Cocktail Whisky?

Updated: Apr 3, 2020

Not so long ago there was a lot of noise being made by a brand called Monkey Shoulder. Back then they were breaking ground by making a Blended Malt Whisky designed for mixing. Some time before that the same company launched an unusual gin called Hendrick’s which was served in a G&T with a piece of cucumber and could be argued to be catalyst of the current Gin boom.

Ailsa Bay Is NOT another traditional Whisky

Ailsa Bay styled image

It's safe to say William Grant & Sons are no stranger to breaking to mould, or pioneering new trends so when I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of their new peated Whisky called Ailsa Bay I was interested to see what they were up too.

A renowned Speyside brand launching a peated Whisky seems like an unconventional idea.

After a fantastic evening at the Sydney launch event I can happily report that Ailsa Bay is NOT another traditional Whisky. Its made in the Speyside, but has a smoky character. It works well as a sipping whisky but it well balanced flavours make it very approachable to mix with.

They have stepped past the confines of the “rules” of their industry and created something unique to their region and to the Whisky market as a whole.

They have stepped past the confines of the “rules” of their industry and created something unique to their region and to the Whisky market as a whole.

If you're not a big whisky nerd then then let me simply say: its approachable, easy to mix and delicious.

As always let’s get straight to business with a cocktail recipe. Ailsa Bay have two suggested serves and a twist on the simple Highball seems like a good place to start.

Ailsa Bay Eventide Tonic

Ailsa Bay Eventide Tonic

Highball Glass

Cubed Ice

45ml Ailsa Bay

60ml Cold Drip Coffee

Fill with Premium Tonic Water

Garnish Keep Calm and Cocktail Burnt Orange & Edible flowers.


Build ingredients into a Highball glass and serve.

Now you’ve got something to sip on let's get into it.


Breaking Regional Boundaries

Ailsa Bay’s parent company, William Grant & Sons are known for making light, floral Speyside style whiskies such as The Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Monkey Shoulder.

It could easily be assumed that Ailsa Bay has been introduced to simply fill ranks in their portfolio. To tick a box and start to make roads into the smoky Islay Whisky market share.

Whilst smoky whisky is nothing new, Ailsa Bay breaks from tradition at every possible turn and it’s wonderful to see that such a successful company isn’t content to rest on their previous successes. They're using the position as market leaders to push the industry and pioneer new trends.

They're using the position as market leaders to push the industry and pioneer new trends.

After speaking to Ailsa Bay’s Brand Ambassador James Macrae it seems as if they questioned every stage of the Whisky making process, with and approached it with an attitude of “what if”.

What If we launch our first peated whisky?

What if we use all of the technology available to use to help in the distilling process?

What if we reverse the cask finishing process and start the maturation in a tiny bourbon barrel from Hudson distilleries?

What if we age the whisky in new, virgin American oak barrels rather than the typical reused option?

What if we create a measurement unit and declare the level sweetness and smokiness on our bottle?

Needless to say, this is a powerful mindset.

When you look at the label on a bottle of Ailsa Bay you’ll see eight letters.

Ailsa Bay bottle and label


This is the first whisky to be measured by Sweet Parts Per Million (SPPM) and Peat Parts Per Million (PPPM). If these are adopted by the whisky industry these markers allow the drinker to have more confidence in what they can expect in the bottle, in a similar vain to which IBU is used in the craft beer scene. It’s hard to know whether this will be adopted by any of the other distillers but I’m definitely a fan of the idea.

The source of the sweetness comes from the interaction with Oak compounds wooden barrels in which it’s ageing

SSSM is a brand-new measurement created by Master Blender Brian Kinsman designed to create an exact definition to the sweetness of the whisky. To be clear there is no sugar in this whisky the source of the sweetness comes from the interaction with oak compounds wooden barrels in which it’s ageing.Particularly the choice of Virgin American oak something that is usually used for ageing bourbon.

PPPM is nothing new but again Ailsa Bay have their own innovative take on it. Typically, PPPM measure after the barley has been peated but before the distillation and ageing process. Ailsa Bay on the other hand measure the peat levels after maturation giving a truer account for the bottle peatiness. This means that the scale still has some way to go before it can be completely dependable, but anything that makes its easier to know what you're going to get in a bottle is good in my books.

Ailsa Bay at 22 PPPM comes in as “moderately peated”. For reference Lagavulin comes in at 37 PPPM and Laphroaig at 45 PPPM

Hang on, what even is peat?

When we talk about peated Whisky they're talking about smoky Whisky. Peat is essentially decomposing vegetation that is dug up from beneath the topsoil. If it were left for a few thousand more years it would end up as coal. Fortunately the Whisky industry realised that it burns in a way that produces a smoke full of character that can be used for drying the barley in the first stages of whisky production. Due to the fact that its made of vegetation, peat is never the same in two places. Varying species of plant life growing in the area will lead to different characteristics of peat.

“Perfectly balanced with a bonfire style of smoke” Ambassador James Macrae describing his Whisky

Ailsa Bay is the only lowland distillery producing a peated (smoky) Scotch. Typically lowland distilleries produce light and floral whiskies. Smoky peated whiskies are made in and around Islay on Scotland's west coast. Using highland peat gives the smoke a completely different character to heavy Islay Whisky’s and leaves Ailsa Bay with what James Macrae describes as “Perfectly balanced with a bonfire style of smoke”

Tasting notes are available here

If you’ve made it this far then its time for another drink! This is a good one.

Cherry and Smoke Cocktail with Ailsa Bay Bottles

Cherry and Smoke

Rocks Glass

Cubed Ice

45ml Ailsa Bay

15ml Amaro Montenegro

15ml Fino Sherry

20ml Crawley’s Raspberry Syrup

Garnish with an edible green leaf, or what ever else you fancy!

Combine all your ingredients in and stirring glass (or tin)

Add ice and stir and strain into your glass over fresh ice.

Micro Ageing

Ailsa Bay takes two unusual approached regarding ageing. For starters they have taken the idea of cask finishing and flipped it on its head.

Cask finishing is the technique that has become fashionable in the past few years. After ageing the whiskey is “finished” in a different barrel, typically something carrying a complimentary flavour such as Sherry, beer or rum.

Ailsa Bay starts with this step. They age in tiny 25-100 litre Hudson bourbon casks for anywhere from 9 months up too 3 years. This is about half the size of a typical cask and enables a fast ageing process due to more contact with the surface of the wooden barrel.

The Whisky is then moved into either Virgin (brand new) American Oak casks, first fill bourbon casks or refill Scotch Whisky casks. The fresh wood in the virgin oak is a major contributor to what imparts the sweetness on the Whisky, something that would be more typically associated with Bourbon than Scotch.

In summary, I would say Ailsa Bay is a most welcome addition to the Whisky Market. If you're looking for a gateway to peated whisky this is a great option but more excitingly if your are looking for something to throw at some cocktails and liven things up this should definitely be on your shopping list.

It's probably clear how excited I am about this new bottle. If you want to try it out for yourself its available in Australia from Dan Murphy's along with most other good bottle shops for an RRP of $99

#AilsaBay #Whisky #WhiskyCocktail #CocktailWhisky #SmokyWhisky #PeatedWhisky #WilliamGrantampSons

Disclaimer: This blog uses links to Dan Murphy's. Any purchases through these links will result in me earning a cheeky commission at no added expense to you I might add! I chose to work with Dan Murphy's as they have the best selection and the best prices that I have found in Australia. If you're not in a rush they also have excellent delivery service that i've used for 4 years. If its a Friday and you want a drink tonight, hit click and collect and pickup your order at your nearest store! If you choose to use these links, thank you for your support

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