Ailsa Bay review: whisky for techies

A toast to the future

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There has always been a sense of timelessness to whisky. More so than any other liquor, it’s the feeling that whisky has always been in some way or another that makes it more appealing.

Maybe it’s the misty-eyed origin stories pasted reverentially across advertising, or just the brown nectar’s perpetual supporting role in our societal storytelling.

Cowboys drink it, love the stuff. So do spies, politicians, ad men, sports stars, and humble office workers. Whether it’s to celebrate or commiserate, whisky is a universal sign of expression unbounded by class, origin, or occupation. It’s history in a highball.

Which is why our ears pricked up at the mention of a ‘futuristic’ whisky (futurwhiskic? No? OK), imbued with tech and innovation.

In their own words, Ailsa Bay is “a group of creative distiller-scientists whose mission is to bring you the future of whisky using experimentation, technology, precision distilling, blockchain and methods we haven’t even imagined… yet.”

Yep, blockchain whisky, it’s a thing. It’s pretty tasty, too.

Future forward

Ailsa Bay’s distillery in the Lowlands on the Clyde Coast of Scotland prides itself on delivering the most scientifically-advanced whisky-making process anywhere on the planet.

Using data points to adapt and control the nature of their spirits, Ailsa’s experts are able to create perfectly-balanced flavours in ways that haven’t been seen before, even with the bajillions of whisky producers crowding the market these days.

A lot of the magic is down to their unique micro-maturation process.

First, they fill Hudson Baby Bourbon casks for six to nine months. It’s pretty cramped in there, which makes the spirit mature faster. Then, it’s moved into American Oak casks for several years. By starting the spirit in casks rather than just finishing it there, the team is able to layer a complex matrix of flavours to create their precision distilled, perfectly balanced single malt Scotch whisky.

Besides being the first distillery in the world to do things this way, Ailsa Bay has also come up with a new way of measuring whisky that they display on the bottle.

They put the PPM, or Phenol Parts per Million, on the bottle to let you know how peaty the whisky is, and then they add their own measurement for sweetness: SPPM, or Sweetness Parts Per Million. The two figures together give you an idea of how the peatiness of their blend is counterbalanced by sweetness.

It’s an impressively technological and forward-thinking way to tackle the production of a spirit so commonly associated with history, legacy, and old-school sensibilities. So many distillers pride themselves on doing things the old-fashioned way that some of the more modern techniques have been left unexplored. In that sense, Ailsa Bay is a breath of fresh air — or rather, a sip of fresh whisky.

Their branding says it all really: a mixture of scientific lines and symbols, like a monochromed opening to Breaking Bad, and trippy generative art that wouldn’t look out of place in the V&A.

It’s designed to depict the data generated from the five stages of Ailsa Bay’s whisky-making process but, to look at it more conceptually, there’s a poetry to combining the symbolism of scientific wizardry with old-school artistic imagery. A recognition of whisky’s deep-rooted historic origins, and Ailsa Bay’s bold new vision for the liquor.

Techy taste test

It’s tough being the person who has to taste-test whisky on behalf of Gadgette, but I was happy to take one (or several) for the team.

And I can honestly say Ailsa Bay more than delivers. It runs a complex flavour gauntlet from start to finish, opening with a scent that mixes wood smoke with oak, tempered with hints of candied orange peel — then smoothly transitions into a blend of peat and rich vanilla oak, meandering between the fruit, smoke, and creamy toffee, before finishing with a memorable mixture of sweet peaty oakiness.

Like any good whiskey, Ailsa Bay’s sweet smoke single malt blends perfectly into a wide range of cocktails, though it’s particularly well suited for whisky soda and whisky wine.

We also found that it mixed wonderfully with cloudy lemon soda (we used the fancypants Red Bull Organics one), with the bitterness of the lemon playing joyfully with the sweetness and smoke.

Running a tech blog, we’re pretty used to seeing cool new startups disrupt stale old industries, but whisky was a new one even for us. And it’s a triumph. Even if you don’t give a fig how it’s made, give it a taste if you get the chance — all that science really does lead to a better sip.

Where do I get some?

Ailsa Bay Scotch whisky is available from whisky specialists like The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt (the latter of which does a 3cl sample for six quid if you’d like to try it before committing to a bottle), and it’s even on Amazon. We’ll toast to that.