Girvan Distillery: A single grain pioneer

6th July, 2016 by Amy Hopkins

With characteristic industrial zeal, Girvan Distillery has wasted no time in establishing itself as a pioneer of the single grain Scotch category.

Girvan is deemed a pioneer in single grain Scotch

Girvan is deemed a pioneer in single grain Scotch

**This feature was first published in the March 2016 edition of The Spirits Business

‘Pioneering’ is a word bandied around somewhat liberally in Scotch whisky, but rightly applies to William Grant & Sons’ vast Girvan Distillery. Despite being much younger than most distilleries in Scotland, the site has achieved much in its short history, taking experimental strides in production and championing the emergence of the single grain Scotch whisky category.

The distillery sits on a sprawling estate in the Scottish Lowlands and features five stills, affectionately known as ‘Apps’, meaning ‘apparatus’. With 53 warehouses that are believed to cumulatively contain 10% of all Scotland’s whisky, and with capacity to produce 110 million litres of alcohol a year, Girvan lacks the romantic sentiment attached to other distilleries. But the virtues of this industrial operation run much deeper than mere aesthetics.

Its genesis lies, funnily enough, in a struggle faced by one of William Grant’s blended whisky brands. In 1956, the company launched its “iconic” triangular bottle for Grant’s Family Reserve Blended Scotch. However, according to Peter Gordon, director at William Grant & Sons and great-great-grandson of company founder William Grant, while the bottle has now become synonymous with the Grant’s brand, it was not initially well-received by key drinkers in the shipyards of Glasgow and Liverpool. The company, therefore, announced plans to create a television advertising campaign for Grant’s, breaking a gentlemen’s agreement in the industry not to promote spirits in this way.

Distillers Company Limited, which later became Diageo, subsequently threatened to cut off William Grant’s supply of grain whisky. “This forced our hand somewhat,” Gordon quips. In April 1963, construction of Girvan Distillery started under the guidance of Gordon’s uncle, Charles Grant Gordon, the late life president of William Grant & Sons. Famously, work was completed in just eight months, and Girvan’s first distillation run took place on Christmas Day 1963 – 76 years to the day after the family’s first distillery, Glenfiddich, began production.

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