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Grain distilleries are something of an enigma within the Scottish whisky. They form the backbone of the central blended market that even today, with the rise of single malts remains extremely popular across the globe. Grain distilleries are by their nature industrial in size and do not offer visitor tours or facilities, yet without them shelves of retailers would be sparsely populated. In recent decades there has been a centralisation of grain distilleries with several sites closing across Scotland in favour of a larger single facility to produce spirit.
Girvan was established in 1963 amidst a massive 380-acre site by current owners William Grant & Sons on the outskirts of the coastal town of the same name in Ayrshire. This grain distillery has enjoyed stability under the family ownership, providing spirit for the backbone of their Grant Blends and Hendrick’s gin. The distillery itself was founded and built in a record period of just 9 months with the arrival of its first Coffey still after Charles Grant decided the company required its own source of grain whisky. Being self-sufficient is solid business practice and it allowed William Grant & Sons more freedom to create its own styles of grain spirit when necessary and meet the rising demand for its range of Grant’s blended scotch whiskies.
Today the distillery is closed to visitors although it is possible to tour the site by prior arrangement if you are persistent. This large facility is also home to the William & Grant administrative offices, a cooperage and in excess of 40 warehouses to mature stock from Girvan and its malt distilleries including Balvenie, Kinnivie and Glenfiddich. History also shows that the Girvan site has been home to a single malt distillery on two occasions. This again stems back to the requirement to be self-sufficient and allowing master blenders to develop blends by controlling stock levels produced on site. This was a popular practice during the 1970’s when producers often built distilleries within distilleries and created a separate still house often with a specific type of still. The vogue at the time was the Lomond still that allowed in theory different styles of malt to be created although this type of still has since fallen out of favour for various reasons.
The original distillery within Girvan was called Ladyburn and it represents one of the rarest within the ranks of Scottish lost distillery files. Established in 1966, very little is known about this small distillery apart from it contained 2 pot stills and its output was destined for blends. Following the downturn in demand for whisky by 1975, the distillery closed and was demolished during 1976. On paper it was operational for less than a decade making it prized by collectors and highly sought after. Bottlings do exist with independents such as Signatory releasing it under the name of Ayrshire to avoid any disputes with William Grant & Sons. Apart from Ladyburn, there hasn’t been a distillery producing single malt whisky within the county of Ayrshire, so by process of elimination…
William Grant & Sons has tapped into this demand by releasing the occasional bottling of Ladyburn and also the presence of the Ghosted Reserve series, which combines whiskies from a trio of closed distilleries including Ladyburn. Then in 2007, on the site of Ladyburn, William Grant & Sons built a new distillery called Ailsa Bay. This distillery was created and operational within a period of just 9 months and can produce a wide range of styles of new make spirit. Annually a small amount of production is peated and this has been released as a single malt recently – for more information on Ailsa Bay please see our specific distillery page.
Girvan today is capable of producing in excess of 75 million litres of spirit annually, which is a huge amount but some way off Diageo’s Cameronbridge facility. Mainly to support the Grant whiskies, in recent years the commodity of grain whisky has grown in appreciation and demand from whisky drinkers. So much so, that in 2013 William Grant launched an official range of grain whiskies from Girvan as the Patent Still. The entry level whisky is the No.4 Still Apps which is a no age statement release with a higher proof strength also being released. Then the 25-year-old and a 30-year-old expressions offer that touch of luxury within the official range. It’s also worth noting that Girvan is widely supported by the independent sector so prices and ages can vary greatly. At its heart, the Girvan style is light and almost neutral in style with fruity aspects plus a hint of wood, lemon and vanilla fudge.
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