From the Highlands to the Islands, Scotland’s whisky regions offer a variety of styles from light and floral to robust and smoky. The history and culture of Scotch whisky are as varied and unique as the whisky itself, and each region offers a truly unique experience.
In our previous guide Scotch Whisky 101: A Comprehensive Guide to the World’s Favorite Spirit, we’ve briefly talked about Scotch Whisky Regions and their whisky profiles. This time, we are going to delve deeper into each region of Scotch Whisky, exploring their individual characteristics, iconic distilleries and notable expressions.
In this article, we are going to explore Campbeltown, the smallest whisky region in Scotland. Although, there was a time when Campbeltown was considered the capital of whisky in the world…
Campbeltown Whisky in a Nutshell
The town of Campbeltown, southwest of Scotland by the foot of the Kintyre peninsula in west Argyll.
- Rich and complex flavours: Campbeltown whiskies have rich and complex flavours. They often have a combination of fruity, smoky, and salty notes. Vanilla and toffee flavours are also common.
- Full-bodied: Campbeltown whiskies are typically full-bodied, with an oily texture.
- Long finish: Campbeltown whiskies have a long and lingering finish.
Glen Scotia, Glengyle, Springbank
Campbeltown unique terroir
Nestled away in the corner of Scotland’s western coastline lies Campbeltown, a unique area known for its high-quality whisky with an unmistakable smoky flavour. Although it is but a small town on the Mull of Kintyre peninsula, it was once considered The Whisky Capital of the World. Indeed, there was a time, back in the 19th century, when Campbeltown hosted more than 30 active and thriving whisky distilleries.
Certainly, the favourable geographic location has helped the city’s distilleries to prosper. The town is amidst the barley fields of Kintyre, it had easy access to abundant supplies of peat from nearby bogs for the malting process. The distilleries also benefited from the pristine water sourced from Crosshill Loch and the readily available coal from Drumlemble mine, which served as a reliable fuel source for the stills.
Furthermore, Campbeltown enjoys a temperate (in Scottish terms!) climate as it is located on the banks of Campbeltown Loch. The lucky geographical position also makes whisky transportation to Glasgow quite easy.
In short, Campbeltown had all the credentials to become the ultimate whisky town. And so it was… for a while.
As with any respectful whisky story, it all started with Irish monks.
The Kintyre peninsula is just 12 miles away from the Irish coast of Antrim. Rumour has it that when Saint Columba pass through Campbeltown and stayed here for 3 years before moving to Iona, he actually blessed the locals with the knowledge of distilling. That would make Campbeltown not only the capital of whisky in its heyday but also the true cradle of Scottish whisky making.
We will never know the truth. But, we must admit it. It’s a pretty fascinating story!
What we do know, is that distilling took place on the Kintyre peninsula as early as the 16th century. Fast forward to the 1800s, Campbeltown was living its golden era with more than 30 whisky distilleries active, making it the major producer of Scotch.
However, at the turn of the 20th Century whisky production plunged with the impact of a perfect storm: Prohibition in America, the World Wars and the Great Depression. The result was that by the 1940s, there were only 2 active distilleries in Campbeltown: Springbank and Glen Scotia.
In the early 2000s, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) considered removing Campbeltown from the list of whisky-producing regions. At the time, there were only two active distilleries in Campbeltown: Springbank and Glen Scotia. The Mitchell family, who owned Springbank, responded to this threat by asking how many distilleries there were in the Lowlands. The answer was three.
Hence, Hedely Wright – Chairman of Springbank and Archibald Mitchell’s great, great grandson – decided to revive an old distillery in Campbeltown and invest over £4 million in its restoration: Glengyle. This move effectively equalized the number of distilleries in Campbeltown and the Lowlands, and the SWA abandoned its plan to remove Campbeltown from the list of whisky-producing regions.
The revival of Glengyle was a major victory for Campbeltown and its whisky industry. It helped to ensure that Campbeltown would remain a vibrant whisky-making region, and it also helped to raise the profile of Campbeltown whiskies around the world.
If you would ever walk around Campbeltown, you will notice that the town still holds thigh to his past. The street names carry distillery references, and old distillery buildings have been repurposed or lay abandoned like haunted houses. In short, just wandering the streets feels like walking around an open-air museum.
But what about the whisky production?
Campbeltown may never know the heights of its late Victorian boom. Nevertheless, this town is gaining more and more popularity thanks to the high quality of the current whisky production – from Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle distilleries – and the vibrant Campbeltown Malts Festival celebrated every year.
Campbeltown whisky traits
The Campbeltown region is known for its gentle peated and smoky style of single malt whisky. The peat often complements the earthy notes of the whiskies, without dominating the flavour bouquet as it may happen with the whiskies of the nearby Islay Scotch region.
As we were saying, there are just three distilleries operating in Campbeltown: Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle.
Springbank is the oldest one as it was founded in 1828. It remains family-owned by J & A Mitchell & Sons and probably is the most well-known. Bottlings and casks of Springbank are rare and highly desired by whisky collectors and investors. Even the ones from independent bottlers!
Springbank whisky is lightly peated but also produces two other styles of single malt: the heavily peated Longrow and triple distilled Hazelburn. Both whiskies varieties pay homage to closed distilleries in Campbeltown and are produced in very small batches every year.
What whisky from the Springbank core range you should try?
This is a classic Campbeltown whisky and a perfect introduction to Springbank production. It is made with 100% malted barley and is aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. This whisky offers a complex bouquet of flavours, and yet it remains perfectly balanced from the first sip through to the sweet, salty finish.
On the other side of town lays Glen Scotia, one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland as it produces 750’000 litres of whisky a year. But don’t be fooled by the small dimensions of this distillery. Glen Scotia Whiskies have won countless awards in the past.
It was founded in 1832 and the current owner is Loch Lomond Distillers. Surprisingly enough, not much has changed since the 1830s. The mash tun, stillroom, and even the dunnage warehouse date back to its founding years!
What whisky from the Glen Scotia core range you should try?
Glen Scotia 15-Year-Old
This 15-year-old whisky is a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. It has a rich, complex flavour with notes of fruit, smoke, and spice.
This distillery was reborn thanks to J & A Mitchell & Sons in 2000, after being closed for 75 years. It was founded in 1872 but closed in 1925. The single malts from Glengyle are bottled under the name of Kilkerran. But why is that?
Firstly, there already is a blended Highland malt with the name of Glengyle. Hence, to avoid further confusion, the company preferred to name the label differently.
Secondly, Kilkerran is derived from the Gaelic ‘Ceann Loch Cille Chiarain’ which is the name of the original settlement where Saint Kerran had his religious cell and where Campbeltown now stands.
Indeed, Kilkerran is a suitable name for a new Campbeltown malt since it was unusual for the old Campbeltown distilleries to be called after a Glen – a name more usual for distilleries from the Speyside region.
What whisky from the Glengyle core range you should try?
This whisky is made with peated malt and is aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. It has a smoky, salty flavour with notes of fruit and spice.
Campbeltown remains a thriving scotch whisky region. If you ever visit the town and you want to enjoy the experience at its best, make sure to:
- Visit Campbeltown’s distilleries: You can learn about the history of whisky in Campbeltown and sample whiskies from each of the distilleries.
- Take a whisky tasting: There are several whisky shops and tasting rooms in Campbeltown where you can sample whiskies from the region.
- Visit the Campbeltown Whisky Festival: Every year, this festival hosts whisky tastings, whisky dinners, and whisky-related events.
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*the photo featured as the cover of this article is from www.visitscotland.com