A rainy day for distillery tours… at least they were quite informative and yielded two “miniatures” which I can take with me. The tours also included free tastings at the Cadenhead Whisky Shop in “downtown” Campbeltown afterwards, but I only took advantage of the Glenglye dram offer since I had to retrieve my suitcase from the hotel and scamper to the bus stop in order to catch the 3:00 P.M. CityLink no. 926 back to Glasgow (since this bus only runs every two hours being on time is imperative). Having already had a dram of the Longrow (which I doubt would have been the expression offered as a sample) and a tiny bottle of Springbank in hand, it did not seem that I would be missing out on much for the sake of a planned departure.
A quick history of Campbeltown as a Scottish whisky “region”: in its heyday of production, the town had about 1,900 inhabitants and 37 (legal) distilleries. During this period, Glebe Street (right behind Springbank distillery) was considered one of the richest streets in the entire U.K.; as single malt scotch was not a big money-maker at this time, pretty much all of the distilleries were simply making spirits for blending. But demand for Campbeltown spirit was so high that some of the distilleries started to make production short-cuts, leading to an inferior product – at one point a rumor circulated that Campbeltown spirit was being aged in used herring barrels, an explanation for the “off” flavors that were suddenly appearing! When Prohibition was declared in the U.S., whisky sales plummeted (blame the Americans!) and all but two of the distilleries – Springbank and Glen Scotia – went out of business. Fast forward to the early 21st century when single malt scotch has become all the rage: the Scotch Whisky Association declares that for a whisky region to be recognized, it needs to have three operating distilleries; wishing for Campbeltown to remain a distinct “region” due to its history, the owner of Springbank buys the Glengyle distillery up the road – essentially “ending” a family feud during which one of the Springbank heirs had opened up his own distillery (Glengyle) after a falling out with the rest of the family. Interestingly, when the original Glengyle distillery went out of business, the Loch Lomond distillery group (which owns the Glen Scotia distillery) bought the name “Glengyle”; the “new” distillery is called “Mitchell’s Glengyle,” and the whisky they produce is sold under the name “Kilkerran.” And only this year is Glengyle finally able to release a twelve-year-old Kilkerran, after years of experiments and limited releases. (A spirit must be aged in a wood barrel for three years and a day before it can be called “whisky.”) Glengyle is not a full production distillery just yet, as all of the maltings for Kilkerran are done at the Springbank facility – which has been owned by the same family and completed all phases of the whisky-making process (malting, mashing, fermenting, distilling, ageing, bottling) on the same site since 1828!
On to the tours! Glengyle was up first, although it began with a visit to the Springbank maltings floor (see below).
an antique “Boby” mill
washbacks; mash tun in the back
the spirit safe – the distillery was not in operation the day of my visit
floor maltings… the grain had just been spread that morning
a malt turner – prevents the germinating barley sprouts from clumping together
that’s not coal next to the furnace, but peat – sourced from Inverness, it smells different than Islay peat
close-up view of the mill
mash-in… that “antenna” (remember the Star Trek episode “Shore Leave”?) rotates in the mash and keeps doughballs from forming
it’s not a ship, it just looks like one
a total of six washbacks; they last for approximately fifty years before the wood begins to warp and leak
three stills: double distillation for Longrow, triple distillation for Hazelburn, and the odd, I-still-can’t-wrap-my-brain-around-it double-and-a-half distillation for Springbank
this spirit safe was in operation
a “dunnage” warehouse, meaning that the floor is earthen – the various barrels are not arranged in any particular order on purpose (obviously this is not a German operation)
barrels are waiting to be used… Springbank (Glengyle) prefers to use sherry casks in order to age all of its whisky, and no barrel is used more than three times