The following originally appeared on Food Digital on January 22, 2013:

Last week I pointed to the current “Golden Age” of whisky by identifying some new distilleries that are being built and launched across Scotland ("Scotland's Newest Distilleries").  The original version of my column focused on independents only which lead to a few emails letting me know that I was “letting the side down,” so to speak, by ignoring the larger whisky companies and their new distilleries.  An edited version of my column now includes William Grant & Sons’ Ailsa Bay and Diageo’s Roseisle among the recently built and launched distilleries.  Over the coming weeks I’ll return my focus to the rise of the independents but for today I want to take a few paragraphs to give Ailsa Bay and Roseisle their due.

Ailsa Bay, built within the confines of a much larger grain facility at the Girvan distillery in South Ayrshire, was, somewhat famously, built in nine months.  William Grant and Sons, owners of the giant Glenfiddich and smaller but equally famous Balvenie single malts commissioned Ailsa Bay in 2007. 

The Ailsa Bay distillery has a capacity of 6 ¼ million liters of spirit when running the eight stills (made to the same specifications as those at Balvenie).  To generate enough wash for distilling there’s a 12 ½ ton full lauter mash tun and twelve stainless steel washbacks (distilleries like Laphroaig, Glenfarclas, and BenRiach also use stainless steel washbacks so don’t be put off if this is the first time you’re hearing of something other than Oregon pine being used).  Fermentation times run between 72 and 78 hours.

William Grant & Sons produce four different types of spirit at Ailsa Bay: “one lighter and sweeter, one heavier, and two peated with the peatiest having a malt specification of 50ppm.”[1]  The company intends to funnel the majority of Ailsa Bay’s matured stock into their blends while releasing more Glenfiddich and Balvenie as single malts.[2]

The Diageo owned Roseisle distillery in Morayshire, located a few miles west of Elgin in the Scottish highlands, and built on the site of the Roseisle maltings, has been in production since August of 2009. 

Operating at twice the capacity of Ailsa Bay, Roseisle is able to produce 12 ½ million liters of spirit a year although their currently only producing 10 ½ million liters.  There are fourteen stills at Roseisle and two 12 ton lauter mash tuns.  The fourteen stainless steel washbacks are much larger than the industry standard with each holding 116,000 liters of wash.  Fermentation times run at around 50-60 hours for the heavy Speyside spirit and 75 hours for the lighter Speyside spirit.[3]

Despite rumors that Diageo built Roseisle so that they could close some smaller distilleries in their portfolio, Diageo themselves have gone to great pains to rebut these rumors.[4]  The simple truth is that Diageo built Roseisle in order to increase the amount of malt they can make available to their blenders.  According to Dr Nick Morgan, Diageo’s Knowledge & Heritage Director:

“Diageo is a blended whisky company.  Diageo does not make single malts for me to enjoy.  We do not make single malts for the aficionado to enjoy.  We make single malts for our blending team.”[5]

So there you have it, two of Scotland’s major whisky producers have built large scale distilleries in the last six years with the intention of building stock for their blenders all the while giving themselves room to continue to serve the single malt market.  Given the different styles afforded by employing different distilling techniques at each distillery it will be interesting to see how single malt drinkers talk about the limited individual releases from each distillery.

[1] Malt Whisky Yearbook 2013, Ingvar Ronde, ed., MagDig Media Limited, 2012

[2] If you’d like to learn much more about Ailsa Bay I highly recommend this in depth report from a visit conducted by Matt & Karen of Whisky For Everyone.

[3] Malt Whisky Yearbook 2013, Ingvar Ronde, ed., MagDig Media Limited, 2012

[4] Lukasz Dynowiak of Edinburgh Whisky Blog wrote a detailed report after participating in a media tour of Roseisle.  I highly recommend taking a moment to read it.

[5] Malt Whisky Yearbook 2012, Ingvar Ronde, ed., MagDig Media Limited, 2011