What can we say about Girvan in reality to make this a little interesting? After all, it was knocked up in record time by William Grant & Sons, to provide grain content for their growing needs in 1963. That’s a commendable achievement and the site has continued to prosper and undergo further development. Apart from this nugget of information, it is extremely taxing to become excited about anything Girvan related, or in reality any grain distillery.
Girvan famously played host to Ladyburn distillery. A short-lived single malt enterprise that was founded in 1966 and only actively producing for just 9 years. While we lament the closure of any distillery, the cynic in me often plays out the nightmare that William Grant & Sons never really gave Ladyburn a chance. By shutting down the distillery relatively early and retaining the bulk of its existing whisky. They created their own unicorn whisky that is now chased and spoon fed into the latest Ghosted Reserve release for a premium price. You can view this as opportunistic, brilliant business sense or plain luck. Having been fortunate enough to experience a handful of Ladyburn’s, I’m not swayed in any particular direction.
Girvan has been in the news lately with employees suffering chemical burns after a significant accident underlying the dangers of distilling which we often overlook. A new Hendrick’s gin distillery has opened within the expanded complex that is also responsible for the disappointing Aerstone range. However, profits are up at William Grant & Sons and that’s what matters today in our financially obsessed society.
Nowadays, grain is seen as a bad word in whisky by some including our Mark. The attempts of the Haig Club brand have raised the visibility of grain, but the substance and repeat business beyond this has failed to materialise. Girvan tried to showcase their wares in 2014 (how time flies!) with their Patent Still Range. An interesting clutch of age statement grains with a single no age statement release; doomed to failure because of their retail prices. You can pick up today’s single cask release from Douglas Laing for around £95; whereas the same 30 year old equivalent in the Patent Still range will set you back £385. That dear reader underlines the fundamental flaw in the official Girvan range. Single grain will never ever be single malt, so please don’t charge comparable prices. A misstep from William Grant that they’ve never had the sense to correct since – sometimes in life it is better to acknowledge you got something wrong, correct it and move on.
Such an act does not seem forthcoming and that’s disappointing. Grain can offer us something as whisky drinkers and the Patent Still range has become ignored and static. The focus nowadays is on the overly engineered and synthetic Ailsa bay and delivering a bling brushed Glenfiddich featuring a short term finish. Grand Cru? Don’t worry; it is coming with our sense of realism, or whisky toil according to the more downbeat.
What can you do with grain? I do think there is an opportunity to try some unique things, whether it is with different casks, or even grain types. Why not take a punt and create something which doesn’t necessarily follow the SWA rules for whisky, but instead creates a spirit that prompts debate and interest from enthusiasts? Some unusual woods or techniques. More than anything, grain is a neutral blueprint to pursue a unique angle that is currently being shunned. Let’s stop being safe and predictable. Step outside of the box once in a while and see what happens. Profits are up so you can put aside the greed for more?
Anyways, we’re here for Girvan and in all honesty it is one of my least favourite grain whiskies. I find it too neutral, vapid and aerated, compared to the more robust grains of North British and Invergordon. I still remain on the hunt however, as grain is more about the cask and patience rather than the spirit ultimately. As Mark will consistently point out to extreme lengths, knackered casks are the bread and butter of grain whiskies. Filled more times than a Brexit extension form request. These hosts are often one trip away from your local garden centre or furniture maker.
For many grain whiskies, you have to listen more closely than a single malt. Turn up your senses to 11 and pontificate the contents that are often subtle and somewhat undisturbed. Occasionally, you’ll stumble across a grain that sings thanks to the harmony with the cask and these are joyous moments of symmetry. I hope that we have a similar chorus with today’s whisky that was distilled in June 1988, before being bottled in September 2018 at 30 years of age. Just 199 bottles were extracted from the single barrel at a drinkable 51.5% strength. Time then to play the grain record once again and see what we pick up.
Douglas Laing Girvan 1988 – review
On the nose: UHU glue and banana chews, freshly sawn wood, almonds and parafilm. There’s hazelnut butter, honey and vanilla. A sappy quality, bergamot, toffee and honey. Water brings out a detergent aspect and floral nature.
In the mouth: an enjoyable texture, but still a sense of neutrality and spirit than integration. Traditional grain flavours of vanilla, sawdust, bananas and wood glue. Water unlocks a nutty quality, oaky and bitterness.
Sadly, not the huge success I was hoping for. This isn’t a grain to prompt anyone to change their mindset, or give this style of whisky another opportunity.
At least this release doesn’t cost the earth and when do a you see anything 3 decades in age for under £100? You’d be hard pushed to think of anything within whisky, without reaching into other spirits. And that’s the saving grace despite the average contents. If you had paid £385 for this, you’d be furious.
Sample kindly provided by the Carnegie Whisky Cellars in Dornoch.