The Rise and Rise of Grain Whisky

A year ago this week, I wrote a blog post about the continuing rise in popularity of Scottish gin.  And although it might not have reached the same heights, grain whisky is gradually building a similar reputation for itself.

Single grain whisky usually (although there are some pesky stipulations) refers to whisky made from grains other than malted barley, such as corn, wheat or rye.  The flipside of this is single malt whisky, which can only be made using malted barley.  The production process for grain whisky is also different, with a continuous Coffey Still used in place of the batch-based pot still system.  Here, the aim is to create spirit which is high in alcohol but light in character.

For many years, grain whiskies have been seen by many as the “filler” which helps keep the price of blends down, whilst also keeping the whisky industry afloat during tough times.  In recent years though, a number of distilleries have put a lot of effort into changing these perceptions, with new brands coming to market.

It all kicked off in 2013, when William Grant & Sons launched Girvan Patent Still.  Produced at the company’s MASSIVE distillery in the south east of Scotland, the launch took many by surprise, as did the price – an entry level bottle cost £75, with the 30 year old (remember this was GRAIN WHISKY) coming in at £300!  William Grants entered the market wanting to set the standard, and along with a beautifully designed bottled, they’d certainly marked their territory.

Fast forward to the latter part of 2014 and grain whisky was about to go global with the launch of Haig Club i.e. David Beckham’s whisky.  I never expected the whisky and the Beckham-based advertising campaign which supported it to land in the UK, but land it did, with Beckham unmissable and the whisky in shops up and down the country.  Grain whisky is also cropping up in numerous special releases, including Diageo’s Cally 40 Year Old – something totally unthinkable a couple of years ago.

So, why the sudden interest?  Well, in this writer’s opinion, grain whisky is being used by numerous companies as an entry level drink for those not familiar or comfortable with single malts.  Many whisky novices have told me that they don’t like whisky because of its strong taste, and as good businesses, distilleries across Scotland have reacted to consumer demand and created a whisky which they’ll find more palatable.  This first step with consumers is often key and I think it’s a great way to introduce a wider market to the joys of Scotch Whisky.  William Grants might have been slightly off when it came to the pricing, but Haig Club seem to have got it spot on, and now other producers are benefiting from the market share and interest which Golden Balls’ whisky has managed to generate.

I’ve previously written about both Girvan Patent Still and The Cally, but be sure to come back on Friday, when I’ll be giving you my thoughts on new boy to the market – 808 Whisky.