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Blog #1 Ayrshire Whisky History

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

For the first Blog on this page, it got me thinking about what to write about, favourite whiskies, experiences, tours but something that has recently piked in interest is Whisky history and although this group is for Whiskies from all over Scotland I thought what is the history of Whisky in Ayrshire itself.

There are currently a few distilleries in Ayrshire but what about the past before the modern Whisky era, Ayrshire seems to be an area that not many know about, including myself, so let’s start there.

Ayrshires Whisky history actually goes back hundreds of years and actually probably has a longer history than many other areas, this is mainly down to the illegal stills dating back hundreds of years and is commonly referred to as the birth of how whisky is now made due to the fact that the whisky was matured in rum barrels which came from the Caribbean. This story itself deserves it’s own blog and there are actually entire books dedicated to this story itself.

Today I want to concentrate on Ayrshires “Legal” Distilleries and my findings have taken me all over Ayrshire and found out info I would have never thought. Although not the biggest area for Whisky, still a special place going back hundreds of years.

So here goes:

Richardtown Distillery - Located near Darvel, the Richardtown Distillery is believed to be the earliest distillery in Ayrshire, opened by William Wallace (Not that William Wallace!) & co in 1795 and closed later that year.

Beith Distillery - One of the earliest distilleries known in Ayrshire was the Beith distillery, opened by Thomas Fleming in 1798 unfortunately was closed in the same year.

Irvine Distillery - Short lived distillery located near the famous red burn ending at the river Garnock, formed around 1827 and licensed to Alexander Campbell and in the following year became Campbell & Mutter.

The distillery didn't last long and was closed in 1831, although William and James Mutter proceeded to take over the famous Bowmore distillery in 1852.

Stevenston Distillery - There is not much known about this distillery other than it opened in 1816 and closed in 1817, it is believed the distillery was converted to a mill after its demise.

Modern Day

Girvan Distillery - Built in 1963 by William Grant & Sons, it is the longest running distillery in Ayrshire and still run to this day, although not initially known for ground breaking whisky, has had history over the years in various guises but was known well for exporting whiskies abroad.

Ladyburn Distillery - Known as one of the lost distilleries was part of the Grant & Sons distillery and was open from 1965 til 1975 and if you can find a bottle of Ladyburn it is well sought after.

Ailsa Bay Distillery - Again part of the Grant & Son distillery, built in 2007 and opened by Prince Charles in 2009 and promoted lowland peated whisky, which is extremely rare as there is not much peat in the lowlands, whether this is a genuine peated whisky or a PR way to jump on the popular Peated whisky band wagon, that is for us to guess but never the less enjoy.

In 2019 Ailsa bay introduced a new brand of whisky which is protected with blockchain technology to prevent counterfeiting, as a techie and a whisky lover I find this extremely intriguing as whisky fakes become more and more popular.

Arran Distillery - Of course before finishing we cannot forget Arran distillery, although not mainland Ayrshire, it’s part of Ayrshire & Arran and I think as Ayrshire folks we will count that as one of ours! , particularly with how popular it is.

The current distillery at Lochranza was opened in 1995 by none other than the Queen and is currently celebrating its 25th year, with a 25YO due out in the next few weeks.

Times were hard at first but with good marketing and no doubt some of the best distillers in the world recent times, Arran whisky has made a good name for itself and is regarded as one of the distilleries responsible for today’s current "Whisky Boom", right time , right place springs to mind.

They have recently built and opened a new Distillery at the South of the island, Lagg distillery and no whisky yet from it but expected to be a much more peated whisky.

As mentioned at the start of this blog, Arran was responsible for some of the best whiskies years ago and undoubtedly made whisky popular a few hundred years ago and it seems that in the late 20th, early 21st century they are pushing the boundaries again.

Johnnie Walker - Formed around 1820 in Kilmarnock with the whiskies and the Johnnie Walker brand becoming one of the most popular Whisky brands in the world. Diageo took over the Kilmarnock bottling plant and in 2012 the plant was closed and all ties between Ayrshire and the brand gone.

A.D. Rattray - Although not a distiller, A.D. Rattray is based in Ayrshire and is one of the best known Single cask private bottlers in the world. If you are ever after a special bottle visit their shop in Kirkoswald.

I would love to give a huge shout out to all the small brewers, Gin distilleries, Wine makers and all the other enthusiasts getting involved and pushing others to make better drinks, in my own opinion this is only good for us, the consumers, better quality at better prices.

Tonight we can toast those years and those to come

Slainte Mhath


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