Kicking off 2016 in Ayrshire – Tasting the Rarest Distilleries

I chose not to do a recap on 2015. Choosing my top ten drams wouldn’t do justice to the other fabulous whiskies I tasted, and wouldn’t really reflect the whisky year I’ve had. I didn’t recap the year the blog had, but you can see the 10 most popular posts here on the right. I’ll also not open 2016 with a post on Brora or Port Ellen, rather with something far rarer…

It all starts at Girvan. I recounted the pretty amazing story of Wm. Grant’s building of the Girvan here, and if you didn’t catch that post, you might want to read it before continuing.  By 1966, two sets of pot stills were installed, and a malt whisky was distilled for the expressed purpose of making whisky for the Grant’s blends, and was never intended for bottling as a single malt.

Ladyburn is probably the shortest lived distillery, operating for nine years and demolished by the tenth. It operated between 1966 and 1975, and was demolished it has now been closed for 40 years. It was located on the grounds of the Girvan grain distillery (it’s worth noting that there were a few other grain distilleries which held a set of pot stills or a Lomond Still, and made malt whisky, like Kinclaith which was built inside Strathclyde in Glasgow, operating from 1958 to 1975).

I know of three official bottlings bottled by Wm. Grant’s in the past few years (40 and 41 year old, as well as an older 1973 vintage that was bottled earlier), one Duncan Taylor single cask bottled in 2008 and a 39 bottle expression released by That Boutique-y Whisky Company and seven casks bottled by Signatory Vintage. Nine casks bottled independently, and some stock left in the hands of the owner. Of course it’s possible that there are more stocks out there, but I doubt there’s a lot left, if any.

Three decades after Ladyburn was closed, Grant’s had a need for more of the Speyside style single malts produced at Glenfiddich and Kininvie, and built Ailsa Bay distillery on the grounds of the Girvan right near the the site of the old Ladyburn distillery. Ailsa Bay has four sets of stills, and like Ladyburn, is not intended to be bottled as a single malt

I’ve been looking for a Ladyburn for a while, and as luck had it, I got to taste both a 1975 Ladyburn and a 2011 Ailsa Bay within two weeks of each other, and I realized that there’s a story linking these two drams. I will make this comment though, about the sad state of whisky in 2015: The 36 year old Ladyburn cost £122.46 when it was released, whereas the three year old Malts of Scotland Ailsa Bay released this year costs €130 (some £95). The new Wm. Grant’s OB, by the way, will set you back £2164.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Rare Ayrshire/Ladyburn 1975 SV, 37 Year Old Cask 3420 (48.2% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, quick legs with a lot of residual droplets taking their time.

Nose: Grassy with honey and spice. Some perfume, melon rind, green leaves and oak. Some sour dough notes with a strengthening of the honey and the green leaves.

Palate: Spicy (white pepper) with malt and a green freshness, not overly complex

Linger: Spice and fresh grapefruit, with the spice evenly distributed all over the mouth. Finish is really long with the grapefruit.


Not overly complex, but well made, this is a Lowland that fits the classic profile we’d expect from one.

But now, once again, the pot stills at Girvan are working and are creating malt whisky for the Grant’s blends. And while Ailsa Bay isn’t intended for regular bottling as a single malt, I suspect we’ll see more single barrels coming to market in the next few years.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Malts of Scotland “Dalrymple Bridge”, Ailsa Bay 2011 Sherry Hogshead, bottled 2014, 328 Bottles (68.3% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Dark bronze, thin legs, rather quick with a lot of residue.

Nose: Briny sherry, sour, malty. Traditional Oloroso nose opens with some time in the glass, but the dirty brine is still there under it. If not for the salt, you might have thought it to be a cognac.

Palate: VERY thick and viscous, mouth coating. Much higher ABV than the nose suggests. A young sherry bomb from a first fill with wood spices, already some oak, espresso coffee and bittersweet chocolate. Water brings out more of the spice and with the added peppery punch comes a red berry sweetness, though it gets masked in the linger with the spice.

Linger: Sweet thick chocolate, hard cherry candy, hints of spices, with clove and cardamom and a hint of cilantro (coriander). Once water is added, it becomes very drying, very classic young sherry bomb with a very long spicy finish. The dryness on the inside of the cheeks remains for a very long time.


What an experience! I’ve been trying to get hold of a Ladyburn for a while, and was actually aiming to have it here for my birthday, earlier in December. That didn’t work, but the Ailsa Bay was the blind whisky tasted on my birthday itself in the Usquebaugh Society’s Blind Tasting Competition, so a circle was completed there.

I wish each of you a happy and fulfilling 2016, and appreciate that you take the time to read my blog. With so many blogs out there, your choice to read this one is not taken for granted. Happy new year!

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