As eluded to in the Bruichladdich MCMLXXXV ’85 I make one marquee whisky purchase a year, that is to say I buy one whisky in the region of £250 or above with the rest being around £100 or below. This year’s is Girvan Patent Still 25 Year Old.
I had been longing to try the Girvan Patent Still 25 Year Old for quite a while since I heard it was being released a few months ago, and was even more excited to see Girvan have a rather large (and packed) stand at Whisky Live 2014. There also happened to be just two of the 500 launch editions available at the event.
Immediately I headed to the store and got them to reserve one for me to buy on my way out, wow what a great idea that turned out to be.
Now, before I get into the product, brand and packaging, a word on the history of the distillery and the Girvan Patent Still.
William Grant, the founder of William Grant & Sons, built his first distillery in 1887 with a vision ‘to create the best dram in the valley’. That spirit of innovation continues to run through our business, our people and everything we do today.
Built in 1963, under the direction of Charles Gordon, the great-grandson of William Grant, Girvan was the most advanced distillery in the world at the time. The very first still continues making great whisky to this day. Known as ‘No.1 Apps’ — a distillery term for apparatus — it was joined by 4 other stills following 50 years. This included a new type of still introduced in 1992 to enable a unique process — MPS distillation. Distilling at various pressures — and under vacuum in particular — allows us to vapourise and distill at lower temperatures. This resulted in a sweeter, fruitier, cleaner and purer spirit.
The Whisky Exchange elaborates further on the current production details, which are frankly astounding:
As of 2012 Girvan produces a tremendous 103 million litres of grain spirit per annum, with plans to increase this to 111 million in the coming years.
Total staff employed on site: 164
Casks filled per day: 2,500 to 3,000
Water usage: 80,000 litres per day
Number of warehouses: 40 and counting
Now onto the product experience, I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed with a new brand / product launch
By launch I mean the packaging, the communications and the liquid itself, not any press or PR associated with the Girvan Patent Still 25 Year Old as I was not a part of that side of things.
The first thing you will notice is the modern design-led outer (or secondary) packaging that frames the product elegantly whilst being surprisingly rigid.
Both side and top panels are mental – something I was not expecting at all – and communicate the brand and product story using simple words and intriguing iconography.
Then you see the bottle.
Akin to wine bottle, maybe Grey Goose-esque in structure, it stands tall and slender that delivers highly on the brief given to threebrand by William Grant & Sons to ‘challenge the traditions of bottle design’.
I do feel a certain apprehension at quite how modern it looks and feels.
Don’t get my wrong, it is definitely super premium, no questions there, and once you own it you feel every penny’s worth as you casually roll your fingers over the rigid outer pack structure or look longingly at the iconography piecing together the story of a product that has taken a quarter of a century to be ready for release and your consumption.
But there is something that steps maybe too far from the traditions of the Scotch whisky market, although I see what they are doing. By entering the market with a £250 single grain whisky, the Girvan brand are flying the flag for the quality of the product and championing a category often seen as ‘blended whisky fodder’ as being worthy of going toe to toe with single malt and, once you’ve tasted it, arguably winning.
“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
I guess you’re wondering about the liquid now then eh?
Opening the bottle you get a true feeling of anticipation borne of the fact that, not only is this one of only 500 from the UK-exclusive launch batch but also that you are about to try something that has been created by pioneers and innovators going back generations.
The nose was smoother than I thought it would be, there was complexity there but layered with a sweetness that opens up to reveal a strong depth of character with a subtle spiciness.
This all leads to a rather reminiscent dram once you take a sip. It took me to a place in my past, could not tell where, but somewhere I felt positive about and that made me think about old libraries and British tradition, all with an underlying sweetness that lingers in the medium term for the finish.
All in all the Girvan Patent Still 25 Year Old is a great first release from a previously quiet distillery that will only grow and grow in both prominence and dominance as the single grain market grows into the next decade.
OFFICIAL TASTING NOTES
Nose: Rich and luxurious on the nose with layers of oaky vanilla, creamy toffee and a cinnamon. With a little water there are subtle citrus, marmalade notes.
Taste: Velvety smooth with an incredibly sweet flavour. Crème Brule, toffee apple, nutmeg and an intriguing citrus note. With time the flavour evolves into deeper, richer notes including chocolate orange and baked apple pie.
Finish: Lingering sweetness.