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Water of Life – Ailsa Bay and Whiskey Hunt Australia

For anyone remotely following this series, it should not come as a surprise that I thoroughly enjoy exploring and discovering new whisky variants, especially those of the peated and Islay persuasion.

While there are always drops that aid in expanding one’s horizon with merits that take what the respective region is known for to new heights, experiencing smoky whiskies that I have not yet had the opportunity to try make me borderline giddy – even more so, when they take their approach to the phenol part content in parts per million formula seriously and treat it as something more than a mere novelty factor to reel in unsuspecting customers.

Enter Ailsa Bay.

Ailsa Bay is a distillery that has been on my “to try” list for the longest time. Their juice does come in an aesthetically pleasing and artfully designed vessel, which not only stands out in your local liquor store but due to its bigger sized opening and the fact a regular measured pourer will not fit it, will potentially result in a bigger serving at a tasting.

The fact that they seem to have a scientific approach when it comes to calibrating their peat versus sweet ratio, to then further refine their expression by maturing new make spirit for six to nine months in small sized traditional Bourbon casks before letting predominantly virgin American Oak casks do their magic in a bid to achieve a precise balance of oaky sweetness and smoky notes.

As a matter of fact, Ailsa Bay has taken things to the next level and singlehandedly introduced an analysed measurement of sweetness identified, i.e. complementing the established and benchmarked PPM with an SPPM one.

Let’s get to it:

Upon pouring a dram of Ailsa Bay’s 1.2 batch, the nostrils are tickled by waves of soft ashy smoke, which encapsulates vanilla, chalk, white chocolate sweetness and orangery nuances, sitting against a solid backbone of refined bacon-esque oakyness.

What the nose promised, fully unfolds on the top of the mouth, which is where Ailsa Bay’s meticulous approach to blending comes to fruition and pays dividends: I love how meaty and peaty components are artfully married with a sweetness that is nuanced by hints of condensed milk, burned sugar and butterscotch.

The complexity of the flavour spectrum on offer is beautifully rounded out with a dry elongated finish culminating in a crescendo of flowering sweetness.

Summa summarum:

An expertly crafted and brilliantly balanced malt that with its affordable price tag should be specifically appealing to non-peat heads looking for an accessible entry point into smoky territory, as despite Ailsa Bay emanating from the Lowlands, it effortlessly stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the better entry level Islay whiskies, being every bit as full of character, but being a tad lighter overall.

Whiskey Hunt Australia

While we have covered a wide array of spirits as part of this series, the focus of the lion’s share of instalments was dedicated to Scotch. While whiskies from the ole world certainly constitute a focus area, American Whiskeys and varieties ranging from Tennessee whiskies and Bourbon via spicy Rye and Wheat to unaged Corn is a wide field that has to offer gems galore and when it comes to guidance, I am lucky to have come across an entity known as Whiskey Hunt Australia.

With its tenet to be a forum for all things derived from moonshine bottled directly after distillation, usually with water added to reduce it to drinking strength, Whiskey Hunt Australia aims at showcasing the character of a distillery’s respective spirit in its most natural form.

With Whiskey Hunt being a telling name, it should not come as a surprise that they are never not on their mission to track down exclusive barrels from their favourite distilleries, to then bottle them and make them available as limited releases for enthusiasts.

Given their longstanding background, their passion and expertise in the realm of whiskey and the relationships they have forged with distilleries, their access is unrivalled and results in the ability to create unique experiences by facilitating the whole process from the distillery to your door.

Needless to say, WHA’s releases are usually lapped up within hours, which results in their emissions being some of the most sought after not just on terra australis.

The care and commitment when it comes to the curation of each individual release and distinct flavour profiles is inspiring and WHA has carved out its own unique niche in the ever expanding world of spirits by elevating the contents of barrels to something far greater than the mere sum of the individual constituents would suggest.

It was through WHA that I was first exposed to the Wilderness Trail Distillery.

Based out of Kentucky, the distillery’s focus is firmly set on provenance with all of its grains sourced locally. Based on their traditional sweet mash process, their Straight Rye Whiskey expression is based on a three-grain recipe. Upon approach aromas of banana, vanilla and meringue hint at what is going to unfold on the top of mouth, counterpointed by charred oak and toasted walnuts. With a finish reverberating with vanilla, cinnamon and black pepper, it leaves one lusting for another dram.

A personal highlight of the WHA range is their 1792 Full Proof variant with the barrel having been picked by Master Distiller Danny Kahn. Clocking in at 62.5% ABV, the nostrils are tickled by a complex melange of toffee, vanilla and cinnamon, the flavours of which are rounded out on the palate by a delicate spiciness, which is complemented by a carefully calibrated oakiness.

Whistle Pig Farm is a distillery that I have heard Bourbon enthusiasts rave about for the longest time. It was about high time that I got my first taste via WHA’s single barrel pick of an almost eighteen year old drop, the aromas of which overwhelm the nose with

a wonderful blend of bright and lively notes set against dark and savoury ones, interweaved with honeyed vanilla and subdued rye notes.

A “Head Honcho” indeed with lingering fruit flavours, honey, and vanilla front and centre flavour-wise and a wonderfully elongated finish culminating in a crescendo of pine and musty wood notes.

Old Forester Distillery is one that I have had great experiences with. WHA’s barrel pick starts off with its trademark oaky, sweet caramel, vanilla, and gently smoked grains up front, to the then step things up with citrussy, cider-esque and candied fruit notes, before the affair is rounded out by toasted grains, cinnamon, banana and spicy highlights. Essentially, it provides what I consider one of the quintessential Brown Forman experiences, with this expression being an example par excellence for its merits.

Barton’s 1792 Bottled in Bond is a dram is based on a ~7.5 year old bourbon bottled at 50% ABV and flavour-wise, is a tour de force traversing peppery, sweet cinnamon and pronounced rye territory comprised of woody, nutty and dominantly sweet nuances.

WHA’s Barrell Craft Spirits Single Barrel pick is another cracker and one of the more delicious rye cask strength drams I have had so far. It has a well-calibrated yin/yang going on ping ponging between a dominant melange of oak, peppery spices, leather and tobacco and honeyed vanilla and delicate floral notes, all of which are clearly distinguishable. Too damn bad that not unlike WHA’s other belters, this one has long sold out.

Summa summarum, Whiskey Hunt Australia is an entity that should be on the radar of anyone remotely interested in American Whiskeys. No matter if you are situated on terra australis or not - if you ever get a chance to snap up a bottle of the WHA barrel picks, you better move fast because if you blink, they are gone.


August 21, 2021

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