Formerly the home of nearly three dozen whisky-producing brands, Campbeltown, Scotland today only has three operating distilleries: Glen Scotia, Glengyle, and Springbank. The trio extend into today a tradition dating back to the seventeenth century, when single-malt whisky distillation first began in the area. Now only a shadow of its former self, the region once was home to at least 34 distilleries, whose total output in quantity (1.9 million gallons in 1886) crowned the region as Scotland’s whisky producing capital before the end of the nineteenth century. Within fifty years, however, a post-Great War economic downturn would close most distilleries on the Kintyre Peninsula, leaving only four operating whisky houses and a sparse few employed of the former 255 distillery workers. The area was also once home to Taketsuru, considered the founding father of Japanese whisky; he studied at the University of Glasgow and then worked at Hazelburn Distillery before returning to his native land.
Fortunately, things have began to change for Campbeltown with the beginning of the new millennium. Although only two brands, Glen Scotia and Springbank would survive the Second World War, a third distillery reopened in 2004 with the formation of Mitchell’s Glengyle, Ltd. At the helm of operations is Hedley Wright, a descendant of 1872 founder William Mitchell, and also directing production at Springbank Distillery. The reopening of the distillery inspired the Scotch Whisky Association to reinstate Campbeltown as a whisky-producing region; formerly, the other two brands were considered to be Highland whiskies. Glengyle will bottle its first casks of recent whisky in 2014, after an aging period of nearly a decade; however, the label will read “Kilkerran,” to avoid confusion with another Scotch. The name refers to ancient King Ciar of Ulster.
Of the other two labels, Springbank is the oldest, founded in 1828 by the Mitchell brothers, whose descendants would begin Glengyle Distillery’s initial production forty years later. Springbank Distillery today is the oldest family-owned independent distillery in Scotland, with traditional whisky production methods preferred. Located at the site of an ancient still, the entire production process for Springbank Distillery occurs at their single location in Argyll; also produced there are two othe whiskies, Longrow and Hazelburn, the name of two operating distilleries in the area at the height of its culinary fame. Also known as an experimenter, three single-malt lines produced at the facility are aged in either sherry, port, or bourbon casks, lending unique flavors unknown to other whiskeys. Another intrinsic trait of Springbank’s products is their brine-like taste, imparted by salty sea air surrounding the region. Tours of the distillery are available, but be sure to arrange for such in advance; visitations are allowed year-round for the price of £3.00.
Founded four years after Springbank, Glen Scotia Distillery first opened in 1832, and by 1886 the facility’s output totaled 85,000 gallons annually. Today the single-malt is bottled by its distiller, as well as the reknown Gordon & MacPhail bottling company, and Signatory Vintage, another blender and bottler. Also rumored to be haunted by a former worker whom drowned in Campbeltown Loch, the distillery closed for a short period in the 1980’s before being reopened by the Gibson Canadian Whiskey Company, who also operated Littlemill Distillery in Scotland’s Lowlands. Housed in a cottage-like building between Argyll and Bute, the primary product to leave the production grounds is an eight-year-old single-malt Scotch whisky considered to be inferior to Springbank, but still of quality.
Although no longer considered the king of Scotland’s whisky-producing regions, Campbeltown today is experiencing a revival that may pique the interest of more and more individuals in years to come. For whisky tasters and distillery visitors, Campbeltown’s Scotch whiskies are a part of living history not to be missed.