When you start drinking whisky, you are desperate to try new drams and to find ones that are both of good value and ones that you can get from the supermarkets that you frequent on an all too frequent basis. One of the most important factors is price, so you scour supermarkets looking for good deals. Then once, maybe twice, or three times if you are unlucky, you spend £40 and end up with a bottle of whisky that you don’t like.
The lesson that you learn is two fold.
- Price is very often not a marker of quality, you can spend £60 a be disappointed and spend £30 and find a gem.
- You need guides to point the way to quality.
The way to find both of these, is to seek out a local shop where the staff are friendly, knowledgeable and happy to let you try before you buy. One of our recent purchases came at just one such shop. Arkwright’s Whisky and Wines, which is an incredible shop in Highworth, Wiltshire. From the outside this is a very unassuming shop, but step through the door to a treasure trove of whisky and friendly, knowledgeable owners. On my visit, I was post work and heading back home in the car, sadly this limited my fun to one tiny dram, but Ken was generous, friendly and full of knowledge to share. We bought two bottles, both of which will get a review in the next few weeks.
The first for review is Ailsa Bay. This is a lowlands whisky, which is created on the same site as the Girvan Distillery. The Ailsa bay is created once a year, on their very limited peated run. As such, you have a little glimpse into the character of the whisky, so what is it like in detail?
Cost: £50 – 60
Appearance: Golden sunshine glinting off still lake water as the sun sets in Autumn.
Aroma: Thick, acrid charcoal smoke, which swirls through acidic lemon and the gloopy sweetness of golden syrup.
Taste: The start of this dram is a marriage of spicy, dry oak, peppery heat and sweetness of rich golden syrup cake.
The middle is where the heat widens, has a rich robust fruitiness. Like the fruit of a dark coffee, but instead of the caffeine, the developing, overwhelming notes are deep, charcoal dust.
As the charcoal develops on the tongue, there is a citrus sharpness, somewhere between the sweetness of like and the tartness of lemon. Finally there is a vanilla note that is somewhere between a custard cream and sherry.
Mouthfeel: Big, robust smoke, spice and citrus.
Overall: If you like a subtle, calm or sweet dram, then this is not the dram for you. However if you like your drams big, powerful, full of smoke and medicinal then this is the one for you. It has an acridness that is like sucking on coal, a smoked fishiness and a salty sea flavour. For me, this dram draws me back to bonfires on the beach at university, enjoying good food and company.
Real Dram Factor: 8.2
Source: Own Collection