Friday, December 27, 2013

New release - Girvan 25 years old

William Grant & Sons, the owners of the Girvan grain distillery, has announced a new range of single grain whiskies that will bear the distillery's name. The Girvan Patent Still range was launched in London back in October with a 25 years old expression - this was a 500-bottle batch that appeared as a UK exclusive in selected specialist retailers. It is the company's first ever single grain whisky release and marks the 50th anniversary of the innovative column still being installed at Girvan in 1963.

The Girvan distillery is one of largest facilities making whisky in Scotland, yet remains one of the country's best kept secrets. Until now. The distillery is located on the outskirts of the coastal town of Girvan, which is about an hour's drive south of Glasgow, and sits on the picturesque Ailsa Bay overlooking the isles of Arran and Ailsa Craig. The Girvan distillery is owned by William Grant & Sons, who also own the Speyside single malt distilleries of Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie.

The primary function of Girvan is to produce single grain whisky to be used as the heart of the Grant's popular range of blended whiskies.  It forms part of a massive 380 acre site that also includes the Ailsa Bay single malt distillery, the Hendrick's gin distillery, William Grant & Sons offices, a cooperage and over 40 warehouses. The grain whisky is produced using a mix of 90% wheat and 10% malted barley, and Girvan's six column stills produce just over 100 million litres of whisky a year.

The distillery is named after the neighbouring town of Girvan and was founded in 1963. It was the idea of Charles Grant, the great-grandson of the original William Grant. The Grant's blended brand was growing so their was a need to produce significant volumes of their own whisky in order to meet demand. Construction work was swift and the site was completed in just nine months. The first spirit flowed on Christmas Day.

The 25 years old is bottled at 42% ABV and has a recommended retail price of £250. The packaging also shows a departure for the company, which owns the Glenfiddich and Balvenie distilleries amongst other brands, as it is presented in a tall elegant bottle which sits in a 'picture frame' style box. It will be joined in Spring 2014 by two further expressions - the no age statement 5974 and the 30 years old. The prices of these are rumoured to be around the £75 and £375 mark, although they will be confirmed when launched.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a pale golden yellow and the nose is exhibits a wonderful mix of aromas - this combines expressive vanilla, honey and coconut with more delicate notes of lemon zest, honeysuckle and white chocolate.  Underneath are further aromas of cereal grains, dried tropical fruits (especially mango) and cinnamon.

On the palate this whisky feels soft, viscous and creamy.  There is an intense woodiness to begin with that is a little drying, but the sweeter notes from the nose soon appear to add balance, complexity and further softness.  There is again a prominent vanilla note, although this time it feels more like vanilla custard or custard powder, along with delicious honey and fresh coconut.  With time, some bittersweet cereal grains come through and this grips your taste buds.  The dried tropical fruits (the mango again, plus pineapple), cinnamon and hints of star anise, ginger and lemon zest round everything off.

The finish is reasonably long with the sweet honey, vanilla and tropical fruit notes fading slowly to leave the spicier, woodier flavours in the mouth. These lingering notes include coconut, although this is more reminiscent of dessicated dried coconut, bittersweet cereals and cinnamon sticks.  Some later freshness is introduced by a hint of lemon zest.

What's the verdict?
William Grant & Son are taking a bold step by releasing this series of whiskies.  By pricing the three expressions as they are, they are saying they are equal to single malts in terms of both stature and quality.  Some will argue that this could never be the case and that they are too expensive. We will leave that argument for others. 

This is no gamble by William Grant's - they have seen a niche in an ever expanding market and have put products out in that niche.  They may be the first but they certainly won't be the last of the big companies to release a range of single grain whiskies, especially if this series goes well.  This 25 years old is a lovely whisky, as are the other two expressions which we sampled at the launch in London.  They should do well.

1 comment:

Scotch Cyclist said...

This sounds to me like a whisky worth finding - and I salute any single grain release.
It does have to be said, though, that far better value is to be had from independent bottlers. For years they have released single casks of comparable or greater aged grain whiskies for half the price of this Girvan. Maybe this pricing approach will stop in future if proprietary bottlings from other companies are increasingly pitched at the level of this one. Stock up now.
Also, Compass Box Hedonism for £55 anyone?