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In the second half of 2018, William Grant & Sons announced the launch of a new single malt brand that would aim to ‘demystify the often complex language’ used to describe scotch whisky.
Developed by Master Blender Brian Kinsman, the new range launched with two distinct expressions. ‘Sea Cask’ and ‘Land Cask’ would offer two variations on the same single malt, highlighting the differences in flavour that can be created during both production and maturation.
Produced at Grant & Sons’ Ailsa Bay facility, part of the Girvan distillery complex, the Sea Cask was designed to highlight the effects of maturation in a coastal location whilst the Land Cask featured an altogether earthier and smokier profile, partly due to ageing in warehouses further inland.
The Girvan distillery was founded in 1963 when a disagreement with DCL left the company short on supplies of grain whisky for their blended scotch brands. Within nine months of breaking ground, the site was up and running and has been producing spirit for the Grant’s blend ever since. Today it is also home to the world renowned Hendricks Gin.
Two years after Girvan was opened, 4 pot stills were installed to create the Ladyburn malt distillery. This venture lasted until just 1975 however before production was halted and the site dismantled a year later. Little remains of the spirit today with any surviving bottles changing hands for four figure sums.
Ailsa Bay is not therefore, the first attempt to produce malt whisky at Girvan but it has already outlived its predecessor, having been founded in 2007. With a maximum production capacity of 12 million litres per annum, the plants eight pot stills can produce an array of different new makes and therefore, countless possible varieties of its single malt. Official bottlings carrying the Ailsa Bay name have thus far been of a heavily peated nature, but with this new Aerstone brand we are perhaps beginning to see some of the creativity and flexibility the site is capable of.
*I was sent samples of each Aerstone dram in order to take part in a Tweet Tasting in May. I will always strive to remain as impartial as possible however, regardless of whether I paid for the sample or not.
Sea Cask is described as ‘the smooth and easy choice’. Designed as a ‘Speyside-style’ single malt, it is matured on the Ayrshire coast, allowing the ageing spirit greater interaction with the salty sea air.
Smell: Grassy… with Honey and Caramel, Fudge and Apple. A touch of Sea Salt but coastal influence is fairly subtle. Malt and Oak come through with time in the glass.
Taste: Good weight and texture. The drams viscosity can clearly be seen as it clings to the side of the glass. Quite a big arrival on the palate. Sea Salt. Salted Caramel, Toffee, Bitter Oak, lots of Pepper and Cinnamon on Pastry. A bit Woody with a touch of Charcoal on the finish.
Value for Money: With surprisingly big flavour for a dram at 40%, the Sea Cask is a tempting proposition at just £30 a bottle.
According to the press material, Land Cask is the ‘rich and smoky choice’. It is produced from barley which has been smoked using highland peat and matured inland to minimize the casks’ exposure to the coastal environment around the distillery.
Smell: Vanilla, Apple, Pineapple, Straw… Lots of Pepper and Malty Biscuit. Shortbread! Gentle Floral (Heather?) Smoke.
Taste: Creamy Vanilla then Honey. Caramel. Black Pepper and dry Oak. A touch of Malt and Barley Sugar before subtle Smoke, like the dying gasps of a smouldering coal fire, crosses the palate without ever assaulting it.
Value for Money: It seems like it would have been very easy for Grants to make Aerstone a No Age Statement whisky. Indeed, many other distillers who were aiming to market a product based on a particular flavour profile would likely have taken that route. It is commendable then, that despite their low cost, each Aerstone dram carries a reliable 10 year age statement. Of course, it helps that they happen to be tasty little drams too.
At the time of writing, Aerstone is exclusive to Tesco supermarkets in the UK, though I can’t see that remaining the case forever. At present however, each expression is on special offer, with a third off the original price.
Both drams are enjoyable, though I feel the Land Cask benefits from that touch of peat, giving it a little extra layer of complexity. Indeed, I would possibly have liked to see the coastal influence in the Sea Cask dialled up a notch to better highlight the differences. Nit-picking aside though, both Aerstone drams are quietly satisfying, every-day sippers and it rather feels like this brand has all the required potential to set a new benchmark in the budget single malt category.
If either of the whiskies featured in this review have caught your eye, you can buy them from Master of Malt. Land Cask here and Sea Cask here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission should you make a purchase after following a link from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.
For more on Aerstone, click here.