There’s nothing romantic about grain distilleries. Their huge industrial steel forms are a product of their function – the near continuous mass production of high proof alcohol. Whereas the largest Scottish Single Malt distillery might product 14m LPA per annum, the largest active grain distillery (Cameronbridge) can produce up to 105 LPA over the same period. Whilst at a malt distillery you’ll probably want to bring your camera, at a grain distillery you’ll not want to forget your hardhat.
The boom in single malt has had a knock on effect in driving interest in cheaper (generally) single grain whisky. Whilst the category is still compact (and limited by the small number of active grain distilleries), single grain expressions have started to gain traction with some whisky enthusiasts, and bottlers – particularly independents have sought to produce a variety of aged expressions to meet new levels of interest.
Girvan, located near the town of the same name forms part of William Grant and Sons Grangeston facility – It’s Grant’s only current grain producing facility and is also home to both the Aisla Bay malt distillery and the Hendrick’s gin plant. The site also once housed the short-lived Ladyburn distillery, which operated from 1965 to 1975, but that’s a story for another day. Girvan, whilst still providing the grain whisky needs for the expansive Grant’s portfolio has tried to enter the single grain market twice. First in 1985 with ‘Black Barrel’, and again in 2013 with the current range of ‘Girvan Patent Still’ expressions. There have been five bottlings released under the new brand to date – 25, 28 and 30 year old age statement whiskies and two NAS expressions – No. 4 Apps (named after the column still that was utilised in its creation) and ‘Proof Strength’.
Today we’re looking at Girvan Proof Strength – which is perhaps aptly named given the incredibly high ABV’s which it’s possible to produce using Girvan’s multiple vacuum columns (so even at ‘proof’ – this whisky has been heavily reduced). The bottling clocks in at 57.1% ABV and costs around £75.
Nose: Exceedingly boozy and quite raw in places. Vanilla extract, vanilla pod and vanilla custard are joined by young sappy fresh oak, PVA glue and perhaps, at best a hint of pear drops. The addition of water certainly benefits the ‘noseability’ of this – reducing the heat and prickle. But, it barely makes a difference to the overall profile, which remains almost entirely vanilla and wood focussed. There’s a touch more creaminess, but it is joined by more industrial-like adhesive – so don’t get too excited by the level of improvement that’s possible here.
Taste: An entirely hostile arrival of pure alcoholic burn – and yet more vanilla and oak. There’s very little development here – your two main flavours are going to be with you through the whole experience (arduous task?!). They are joined by some buttery pastries and green apple, but, that’s pretty much your lot. Reduced, this is more immediately amicable, and emphasises some toasted cereals and pear drops, but there’s no real definition elsewhere besides a morass of vanilla and wood.
Finish: Mercifully short. Some pepperiness (which at this stage is at least interesting), and unless quite heavily reduced, still with plenty of burn.
There’s no way around it - Girvan Patent Still Proof Strength is a very poor whisky. Both mono-dimensional, and aggressively raw, there’s little to enjoy here. Most damning however is the level of simplicity on offer for an RRP of £75 – there’s so little going on here besides the most basic of ex-bourbon cask flavours that tedium will likely settle in before you’ve even finished a single dram of this. I was going to suggest that this might be a whisky suited for highballing – but even then there are loads of better options out there – all of which are probably cheaper. Avoid.