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The Girvan grain distillery complex was built in Ayrshire in the Lowlands in 1963 by owners William Grant & Sons to supply grain whisky for their blended scotch whisky brands. Grant’s supply of grain whisky had been threatened by dominant producers Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) after Grant’s broke...
The Girvan grain distillery complex was built in Ayrshire in the Lowlands in 1963 by owners William Grant & Sons to supply grain whisky for their blended scotch whisky brands. Grant’s supply of grain whisky had been threatened by dominant producers Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) after Grant’s broke a gentlemen’s agreement not to promote whisky on television with ads for their Standfast blend.
Charles Gordon Grant drove construction of Girvan personally, supposedly living in a caravan for long periods during the build and travelling around the 380-acre site by bicycle to hector the foremen. Bottles of whisky were distributed to workers to incentivise the hectic schedule and the construction deadline was met, with distillation beginning on Christmas Day 1963, just nine months after building works had started.
Girvan now has an annual capacity of well over 100 million litres per year, with three pairs of columns famously including a multi-pressure-system (MPS) installed in 1992 called No. 4 Apps (short for Apparatus). MPS uses vacuum technology to enable a lower-temperature distillation. The original Coffey still from 1963 (known as No.1 Apps), ran until a few years ago.
Casks of grain spirit are filled at different strengths between 69-80% alcohol to give different profiles after maturation. Production of the company’s wildly successful Hendrick’s Gin also takes place at a separate plant within the Girvan complex using two Bennett pot stills and a Carter-Head still.
In 1965 a single malt whisky distillery, Ladyburn, was constructed at Girvan. Ladyburn only ran for ten years until 1975, however, and is now one of the rarest ‘unicorn’ single malts, with only a tiny handful of casks surviving into this century. Signatory have bottled several casks of Ladyburn single malt whisky as ‘Rare Ayrshire’.
2007 saw a new single malt distillery, Ailsa Bay, begin operations at Girvan. Ailsa Bay is a quite different operation to Ladyburn, quickly expanding to 16 stills and a capacity of 12 million litres per annum in 2013, making it one of the largest malt whisky distilleries in Scotland.
Bottlings of Girvan grain whisky were rare until quite recently, with a discontinued bottom shelf export brand called Girvan Black Barrel and a prestige small batch Girvan 1964 vintage released in 2001 as the only official bottlings until a few years ago.
Grant’s attempted to grow the single grain whisky category in 2013 with the official release of Girvan Patent Still 25-year-old. This was followed in 2014 by a 28-year-old, a 30-year-old and a pair of no-age-statement Girvan Patent Still editions at 42% and 57.1%.
These ambitiously-priced official bottlings were met with less enthusiasm than hoped for and have yet to find their legs. As ever, the best value bottlings of Girvan single grain whisky can be found from independent bottlers, with Signatory bottling Girvan grain whisky as Ayshire and highly-rated recent Girvans from the likes of Douglas Laing and Cooper’s Choice.