Belonging to the William Grant & Sons distillery portfolio, Ailsa Bay Distillery is part of the larger Girvan grain distillery site, which is located near the town of the same name in South Ayrshire. In fact, it isn’t the first malt distillery to be incorporated into the Girvan facility – Ladyburn operated there from 1966-1976, ultimately falling victim to the trend away from blended whiskies, for which purpose it had originally been built. The Ailsa Bay Distillery was added in 2007 as a response to growing demand for the Grant’s blends, and also their two flagship malts, The Balvenie and Glenfiddich, which meant these distilleries were unable to satisfy demand for both single malt and blending liquid.
A Unique Approach
Ailsa Bay Distillery is the first in the world to have identified an analysed measurement for sweetness – SPPM – as well as for ‘peatiness’, which is measured in ‘phenol’ content per parts million, or PPM. The higher the PPM, the more peaty the flavour of a whisky. Identifying the SSPM is possible thanks to a pioneering process developed by Ailsa Bay’s Master Blender, Brian Kinsman.
Award-winning Ailsa Bay attributes its uniquely balanced, bold flavour to being “scientifically distilled at 022 parts ‘peat’ and 019 parts ‘sweet’, then micro matured to a precise balance of oaky sweetness and smoky notes”. Also worth noting is the fact that the distillery measures the spirit’s PPM, rather than the malted barley’s, as is commonly practised throughout the Scotch industry.
Ailsa Bay Distillery is named after its coastal location overlooking Ailsa Craig, the rocky island rising from the water in the Firth of Clyde, and was constructed within just 6 months in 2007. The encompassing Girvan Distillery had been built several decades earlier, with its first coffey still installed in 1963 and celebrated with the first official bottling that same year. Setting the precedent for a speedy build, Girvan Distillery was producing spirit within nine months of construction beginning. This was largely motivated by a quarrel between its owners, William Grant & Sons, and Distillers Company Limited, which had led to restrictions on grain spirit available for use in the Grants blends. Following the opening of Girvan Distillery, they introduced an export single grain whisky, Black Barrel, in 1985 to European markets.
Ailsa Bay distillery produces three types of whisky: a peated spirit, a lightly peated one and an unpeated one, which are used in some of William Grant & Sons’ other brands, which include Grant’s and Clan MacGregor. Their eponymous single malt, Ailsa Bay, is the only Scotch whisky to undergo a process called ‘micro maturation’, during which the new make spirit is filled first into unusually small Hudson Baby Bourbon casks (25-100 litres in size) then left for six to nine months, enabling intense, rapid maturation. Following this, the spirit is then moved to a combination of virgin, first-fill, and refill American oak casks for several year. Ailsa Bay is the first Scotch distillery to adopt this process, making the resulting whisky truly unique.
Not only is the Girvan Distillery one of the largest active whisky-making facilities in Scotland – it is also one of the most energy efficient. Ailsa Bay itself produces 12,000,000 litres annually.
The first iteration of Ailsa Bay, a mysterious non-age statement expression, was released in February 2016, and showcased the diverse capability of the distillery’s production set up. This was followed by version 1.2 ‘Sweet Smoke’ in 2018, which boasts a marginally higher PPM at 22 as opposed to 21.
Ailsa Bay at Auction
Find rare, vintage and limited edition expressions from Ailsa Bay in The Whisky Shop Auctions
View all lots