SPRINGBANK WHISKY SCHOOL
Today was the day I have been waiting for, the first day of the Springbank Whisky School. Reading like the start of a great joke, my course mates consisted of an American, an Englishman, a German and two Australians. We are all staying at the Dellwood Hotel, which sits on the entrance to Campbeltown no more than 10 minutes walk to Springbank distillery. Our hosts are the lovely Bruce and Tracey, who will house and feed us for breakfast and dinner for the next five days.
We began the day with a breakfast of champions, porridge with a shot of single malt scotch whisky to pour over the top, cask strength no less. It was the first time I have literally had whisky for breakfast and I have to say, it actually went quite well with the hot sticky porridge. This isn’t really a common Scottish breaky, but it was a nice way for us to kick of the day and the whisky school because we obviously all enjoy a good dram.
On arrival at the distillery, we met some additional students, two local 16 year old lads, Ben and Dean, who were attending the whisky school for work experience – which is a pretty cool work experience choice in my books. Next we were met and welcomed by Springbank Distillery Manager, Gavin McLachlan who gave us a quick orientation and tour of the 190 year old distillery.
The Springbank Distillery School, is a truly unique experience and positions are highly sought after. We learnt that all of us on this particular course had first expressed interest to attend the school at least two years prior, so that gives you a bit of an idea how long the waiting list is.
The Springbank Whisky School is the ultimate experience for whisky enthusiasts.
Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland that performs every step of the whisky making process at the one site from floor malting barley to bottling finished whisky; making it the ideal place for a whisky school. The school is primarily a hands on experience, where students are encouraged to participate in all steps of the whisky making process over a five day period.
Our first day began with a trip to the malting floors to help John and Roddy spread the malt by hand. We made light work of the modest 6 tonnes of malt piled in the corner (the floor has a capacity of 13 tonnes) but the unseasonably hot weather Scotland has been experiencing this past couple of weeks made it quite sweaty work. John and Roddy would usually spread a full 13 tonnes of barley by themselves as well as tend to it every day, so it should not have been an issue for an extra six grown men and two work experience teenagers.
The tempo at the distillery was slow today with it being the week after the Campbeltown Malts Festival [link] and Springbank Open Day [link] but that allowed for a gradual introduction to distillery life and gave time for all of the new information to sink in. After spreading the barley out onto the malting floor, we had a brief introduction to the still house before John, ran us through the mashing process. I will go into each step of the whisky making process in detail in another post.
Lunch for our school week was provided by Donald, in the tasting room at the Cadenheads Shop in Campbeltown, just a short walk from the Springbank distillery.
The rest of our first day consisted on meeting people and helping out where help was needed or to learn the basics of a particular distillery task. We used stencils and paint brushes that were more like stubby shaving brushes to mark up some empty casks to be filled tomorrow and had a more in-depth run-through of the distillation process with Stillman, Robert. Overall it was a fairly relaxed introduction to life at what is perhaps the most traditional whisky distillery in Scotland.
That evening, I decided to introduce my fellow students to the Kinloch Bar that Dad and I discovered on our first day [link] in Campbeltown last week. Dad joined us so it was a nice opportunity to introduce the guys to my dad and share a few stories. I chatted to old bloke in the bar who was more than happy to confirm the history of the place. He said the bar was the oldest licensed establishment in Campbeltown and was originally called the Kinloch, even though it is most well known by locals as the Glue Pot. He also said there was another bar with the same name opposite the old Kinloch distillery at one stage. Campbeltown is such a beautiful and interesting town with a rich history that is synonymous with Scotch whisky.
WHISKY SCHOOL STUDENT PROFILE
Brian, 39, Project Manager, USA
How did you get into whisky?
An old college roommate of mine was a scotch enthusiast, but I was more of bourbon fan after being burned by a Jonny Walker tasting a few years before. He gave me a Scotch in a triangle-shaped botte, which I later learned was Glenfiddich 12 year old and it tasted so much better and smoother that what I had tried before. From that point on I started drinking less bourbon and started drinking more scotch, specifically single malts.
How did you hear about the Springbank Whisky School?
Some people I knew had done a whisky school at Kilchoman, but when I contacted the distillery I was told they no longer do that. One of my friends suggested to look into the whisky school at Springbank, which I didn’t know they offered, so I did.
What’s your favourite whisky?
Bowmore Dorus Mor III but Laphroiag Quarter Cask is another staple, I like to call it Laphroiag light, because it is more approachable than the 10 year. The quarter cask layers on extra vanilla, toffee and caramel flavours while tempering some of the smoke. As soon as my bottle is gone I’ll run to fetch another.