By Richard Thomas
To too many Scotch fans, “grain whisky” is a dirty phrase, the unwanted component that causes them to disdain blends. This is because grain whisky is made with more than just malted barley and in a more efficient column still, which because it is more efficient also produces a less expensive and intrinsically less flavorful liquid.
Yet this was not always the case, because among other things grain whisky is also intrinsically smoother, and once upon a time there was a niche for single grains. That category is now reviving, and arguably a grand daddy and big kahuna of the category is the Girvan 25 Year Old Single Grain, released last autumn.
I call it that because it is one of the oldest single grains available at this time, and also because it comes from Girvan, the grain still for William Grant & Sons and one of the largest distilleries in Scotland. The facility is, in fact, so large that it also makes Hendrick’s Gin. The grain whisky coming out of Girvan these days reportedly has a 90% wheat, 10% malted barley mashbill, but who knows what they were using in 1963, when this whisky was originally distilled.
The color of the Girvan 25 Year Old is solid gold, and like real gold, it catches light very well to boot. The nose is a balance of fruitiness and spiciness. It’s a little lemon, lime and apples on the one hand, and cinnamon, ginger, and a hint of mint on the other. The scent really opens up as it makes contact with the air, and after a time develops a current of toasted cereals.
The flavor is woody, dry and spicy on the top. The same dollop of cinnamon and ginger is there, but I would describe the rest of the spice blend as peppery rather than minty. The wood aspect is earthy and toasty, and underneath is a stream of light, sweet fruit flavors, especially apricot. The characteristics might sound disparate, but the meld together well, although I thought the toasty wood a little bitter and discordant.
The finish is light and not particularly warm, but it still leaves an interesting and pleasant spicy afterglow. For that last aspect, Girvan 25 Year Old is one of the bottles I would bring to the front of the collection every summer, when heavy finishes become a burden in the heat.
Overall, this stuff is very mature, and makes for a balanced and sophisticated sipper. In particular, I think it is worth looking at not only to see what can be done with aged single grains, but also for a better understanding of the grain side of an aged blend like Grant’s 25 Year Old.
The painful part is that it’s not cheap. Girvan 25 Year Old is a whopping £270 ($455). Even so, for its quality and its nearly unique stature it is worth every penny.
The Girvan 25 Year Old single grain is already doing well, having bagged a gold in “Lowlands up to 25 years old” at the 2014 Scotch Whisky Masters.