The future of grain whisky

8th April, 2014 by Becky Paskin

Could single grain really become as popular as single malt or blended Scotch? Now that William Grant is joined by Diageo (and David Beckham) in the race to establish the category, it could happen sooner than you think.


Reaching new heights? Can grain Scotch whisky grow as big as its malt brother?

William Grant claims its launch of single grain whisky Girvan is an “ambitious challenge” to champion the emergence of a “third leg of the Scotch whisky category”.

The family-owned, UK-based company is certainly known for its innovation over the years, having pioneered the global advent of single malt with Glenfiddich back in 1963, but how much commercial viability is there in single grain Scotch, and will Girvan really grow, as anticipated, to become a one million case brand in 60 years?

The group launched two expressions of Girvan in March: a 30-year-old and a no-age-statement whisky, Girvan Patent Still #5974, that both premiered alongside its existing 25-year-old at Whisky Live in London on 21 March. But while Girvan looks set to become a prominent advocate of single grain Scotch, it certainly isn’t launching the category.

Grain whisky has been produced in Scotland since the 15th century, using cereals not required as food. Since the invention of the continuous column still in the late 1820s, distillers have been using grain whisky to balance out what was typically very heavy malt whisky in blends.

Single grain Scotch history

In the mid-20th century a handful of single grain brands came to the fore. Invergordon Distillers produced a small amount of grain whisky in the 1960s, and came out with a fully-fledged 10 Year Old single grain in the 1990s under Whyte & Mackay that “bumped along but was never actually promoted,” according to Richard Paterson, master blender. “It was always in the shadow of our blended whisky and single malts and that’s still how the nation and industry sees it.”

Come 2000, Invergordon single grain had been terminated, with all liquid produced at the Highland distillery destined for the group’s blends.

The Distillers’ Company Ltd, and later Diageo, has produced a Cameronbridge single grain since the 1940s, aptly named Cameron Brig. But aside from some insignificant exports for Johnnie Walker education in emerging markets, its presence is restricted to pubs and local shops in the area immediately surrounding the distillery.

Consumer uptake on grain whisky has been paltry to say the least, mostly because producers have focused on growing their grain stocks for blends, which today account for around 90% of all Scotch sold. “The few people who do know what grain whisky is think it’s the crap that goes into blends, even though it accounts for 70% of whisky in that blend,” says John Glaser, founder of Compass Box. “But that’s because no-one gets out there and teaches people about it. Hence why there’s little demand for grain whisky.”

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