The Ailsa Bay distillery was built within nine months.
Supposedly, this was same amount of time it took to build
the Girvan grain distillery almost five centuries ago.
Like most of the other remaining Scotch grain whisky distilleries, Girvan
is located in the Lowlands whisky region in the southern part of Scotland.
Girvan is the latest addition to the list of grain whisky distilleries, built in 1963
by William Grant & Sons Ltd. That’s the company behind the Glenfiddich and
Balvenie single malt brands (and the Kininvie that isn't sold as a single malt).
They recently built another malt whisky distillery near this grain whisky plant;
Prince Charles opened the Ailsa Bay distillery in January 2009.
According to Grants' chairman Peter Gordon: "By driving
forward the quality of our blend, we hope to ensure the
long-term future of our Girvan site and 130 employees."
In a way, it's nice to see so much activity in the Lowlands.
After all, many (malt and grain) whisky distilleries in the
region were closed in recent years.
The Girvan distillery also features four wash stills and
four spirit stills. A relatively small part of Girvan's huge
production is sold as the Black Barrel single grain
whisky (without an age statement) since 1995.
One of those closed distilleries was the Ladyburn malt
whisky distillery that operated within Girvan's buildings
between 1968 and 1975. Girvan prospered after the pot
stills were removed; the distillery now has a total capacity
of 15,000,000 litres of alcohol per year,
During the 1990s I was in an experimental mood, so I've bought a few bottles of Black Barrel.
I’ve struggled through them, but the only positive thing I can report is that it got me slightly drunk.
The stuff was pretty vile and put me off grain whisky for a few years. It took me a while before
I dared to continue my investigations. When I did, I found that grain whisky can actually be
pretty good - provided that they get the time to mature and the casks are carefully selected.
In fact, I’ve found that most official bottlings of grain whisky are not to my liking.
Whenever I chanced upon a bottle of decent grain whisky, it usually was from a ‘single cask’,
selected by an independent bottler. Most OB’s are marketed in the way blends are marketed;
the makers rather invest in advertising and PR than in the quality of the product.
In fact, I’d like to stress that the fact that I’ve dedicated a few pages to grain whisky doesn’t
mean that I endorese that inferior product. I don’t. In fact, I still feel that that the public was
swindled in the 19th century. Keep in mind that grain whisky is not real whisky - the
ingredients and equipment are different from the stuff that has been used for centuries to
produce proper malt whisky. There are a few good grain whiskies, but they are old and rare.
The odds of finding a good grain whisky are just too slim for my tastes.
The best thing I can say about young grain whiskies is that they are cheap.
But single grain bottlings are not the cheapest liquor on the shelves of the average liquorist.
So, if the quality that made you look for information on grain whisky was their cheapness,
I suggest that you have a closer look at wodka, gin or the bottom shelf blends instead.
They can get you just as drunk - for less money.
If you like to think that you’re the kind of person that looks for quality in his or her drink,
you probably shouldn’t waste your time on grain whisky. If you can afford it, pay a little more
for a proper malt whisky - preferably one with at least an age statement on it.
As I said, the Blackbarrel didn’t impress me much.
By the time William Grant & Sons started to sell their
‘premium’ Girvan Patent Still bottlings (depicted at
the left), I had already given up on this category.
However, I did try a few independent bottlings of
the Girvan grain whisky in the past. Few of them made
it into ‘average’ territory, but I’ll share my tasting notes;
Girvan 1989/2004 (60.4%, James McArthur)
(This ‘Blackbarrel’ came from cask #110636.)
Nose: Herbal, spirity and sweet. Easy on the nose,
although it's a little too 'green' for me.
Taste: Not too bad on the palate for a grain whisky,
but it doesn't have a lot of personality.
Score: 74 points - not quite average.
Girvan 1993/2007 (46%, Jean Boyer 'One Shot')
Nose: Paint thinner. Light and sparkly, mellowing out.
Little complexity. Very faint tobacco?
Opens up a little after half a minute with light fruits.
I have to admit it has more character than I expected.
Taste: Smooth start and centre. Bitter centre.
Grows grittier and quite rough towards the dry finish.
Score: 73 points - which isn't a bad score at all for
a grain whisky that's still in its early teens.