So for my next destination, I’m leaving the beautiful island of Islay and heading back to the mainland. To a town set on the west coast of Scotland that is surnomious with whisky production, I am of course talking about Campbeltown. The once self proclaimed capital of whisky in Scotland, where at it’s peak it had over twenty-five distilleries working within the town. Alas the town was hit hard when the whisky business crashed in the early 1900’s and now only has three distilleries still in production.
I would visit all three of them but being strict with myself I’m only visiting two. They are so integrally linked to one and other it might as well be one distillery, with both being owned by the same people.
Springbank and Glengyle are the two I’m talking about, with the later being the newest to be brought back to life and the one I’ll talk about first.
Originally founded in 1872 by William Mitchell after supposedly falling out with his brother John (co owner of the Springbank distillery with William and his family) about some sheep. Leaving the family business to build the Glengyle distillery on the corner of Glengyle road and Glebe street. He ran the distillery as the sole owner until 1919 when it was sold to the West Highland Malt Distilleries Ltd, being sold on again in 1924 for the sum of £300 pounds before being closed the year later. The buildings have been in consistent use since then as storage warehouses or offices for agriculture businesses, even at one point being used by the Campbeltown miniature rifle club. That was until it was reopened as a distillery in 2004 by the new owners after two previous attempts to reopen the distillery. When the new company Mitchell’s Glengyle limited run by Headly Wright, the great great nephew of the founder William Mitchell and chairman of J&A Mitchell and Co Ltd owners of Springbank distillery. It was the start of a lengthy restoration period, the buildings were grade 2 listed so any work had to be carefully considered and managed.
Aside from the whisky which we’ll get to, one of the main points of interest for me with Glengyle is the stills. Being the first new distillery to (re)open in Campbeltown in 125 years, it was going to be an important decision to make. They decided to use a wash and spirit still from the Ben Wyvis distillery, with some alterations to the stills so they would produce the spirit needed for Glengyle. The Lyne arms angles were changed, along with a few other alterations before the necks were soldered on to the bowls instead of being riveted as they were originally. One of the last major pieces on the restoration was the installation of four 30,000 liter wooden washbacks, made and installed by Arthur Brown Ltd a well established coopers from Dufftown. This was in the January of 2004 and the first spirit was produced on the 7th March 2004.
Glengyle has two expressions available at the moment, the 12yo Kilkerran launched in August 2016 and the more recent 8yo cask strength released in April 2017. Before these two expressions was a series called Work in Progress, WIP 1 was released in 2009 and the final WIP 7 being released in 2015. The idea behind the series was for people to chart the progress of the spirit as it matured, until they had a 12yo single malt to release as a core expression. The last three WIP were released as both Sherrry and Bourbon matured versions.
Even though it has only been back in production for just over a decade, the Glengyle distillery has gathered a loyal following and having tried both of the latest expressions I can see why.
Now while your in Campbeltown you will almost certainly visit more than one distillery, so Springbank is most likely to be one of those destinations. There are not many distilleries that have the history or control that Springbank has, founded in 1828 on the site of the former illicit still used by Archibald Mitchell becomimg the 14th legal distillery in Campbeltown. Being taken over in 1837 by John and William Mitchell sons of Archibald. With William leaving to start Glengyle as we mentioned above in 1872, John took his son on board starting the company J&A Mitchell. Who to this day are still the owners of Springbank, five generations later with current chairman Hedley G. Wright the great great grandson of Archibald Mitchell.
Now Springbank has quite a nice fact about itself, they are the only distillery in the country that has 100% complete control over their process. From the maltings all the way through to bottling, it is all done on site at the distillery. Giving them a greater control over quality than most other distilleries, it is also one of the reasons why they are the only distillery in Scotland to produce three distinct malts from one site.
These are the Longrow single malt first distilled in 1973, the result of an experiment to show that a Islay style malt could be made on the mainland. This was produced along side the Springbank single malt, this was then joined in 1997 by the triple distilled Hazelburn single malt. Both the Longrow and Hazelburn are named after Campbeltown distilleries long since closed. Both of these malts are produced along side the ever popular Springbank single malt.
One of the best things other than the whisky for Spingbank is the tours, they have something for everyone. From the general tour of the distillery, to ones that include a tour of the Glengyle distillery as well. For me the ones that stand out are the premier and Frank McHardy tours, the ones were you also get a guided tour of Campbeltown and it’s history with whisky. Of course if you really want to splash out and be a part of the history, then you could go to the Springbank whisky school. Five days spent at the distillery where you will get to experience every stage of the process from malting to bottling first hand.
Now I personally want to try this and maybe help with the production on some Longrow Red, the one expression I’m really keen to try again. A nice Peated malt that is released annually at cask strength, each years release has been matured in a different red wine cask. From port to the latest being matured in a Malbec cask for fifteen months, after twelve years in a bourbon cask.
So I’ll leave Campbeltown heading towards my last few distilleries on this epic tour.