SPRINGBANK WHISKY SCHOOL
Sadly, today was the final day of the Springbank Whisky School. The distillery was finishing up its weekly production, which will begin again next week with distilling the wash from the tail end of this week. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I cannot recommend it enough…However, prepare to wait a few years before a position frees up.
Today we were taken on a walking tour of Campbeltown, beginning at Springbank and ending at Glengyle (the long way, not just a walk 2min down the road). Campbeltown is an official whisky region for a reason, at its peak, Campbeltown was home to upwards of thirty concurrently operating whisky distilleries and had the highest income per capita of all of Scotland. The map accompanying the tour marked out the location of a massive 37 distilleries! Many are mere memories with nothing remaining or have been replaced with newer building, but some have at least some structures still standing. As I mentioned before, part of the Kinloch distillery which operated for 103 years, still stands and is now the Fiddler’s Inn.
Campbeltown was once littered with stone warehouses, often built from rocks transported in the ballast of ships from far away lands. As you walk around the town you can see the difference in construction material in older buildings and walls. Paul, asked if the historical distillery sites were marked in some way such as how historically significant sites are often identified with brass plates in bigger cities. But alas, there are no physical identifiers other than the remains of the Lochhead sign chiselled above the archway of what is now the local bus depot or the faded shadow of Hazelburn lettering at the entrance to a now empty and roofless warehouse building. I hope one day, there is more of an effort to preserve these locations and identify them for visitors. If you visit Campbeltown, you can take part in a similar tour at Springbank distillery.
We finished the tour at Springbank’s sister distillery, Glengyle.
Glengyle is a distillery resurrected from one of the many lost to history. It came about when the Scotch Whisky Association threatened to revoke Campbeltown’s status as a Scotch whisky region. J&A Mitchell & Co’s Chairman, Mr Hedley Wright, great, great grandson of the founding Archibald Mitchell, took umbrage with this idea and highlighted to the association that at that time, there were only three operational distilleries in the Lowlands region and were they planning to revoke their status as well? “But they have three, not two distilleries”, replied the society to which Mr Wright answered “so if there were three distilleries in Campbeltown you would not have an issue?” “Yes, replied the society…but it’s not like you are going to build another distillery just to keep Campbeltown’s whisky region status.” But that is exactly what Mr Wright did and Glengyle distillery was born.
Currently, Glengyle produces two whiskies under the Kilkerran name, a 12 year old and an 8 year old. The distillery was designed by the previous Director of production, Frank McHardy, however, it only operates around two months out of the year. It sits dormant for the rest of the time, with the exception of equipment being periodically run up to prevent most issues from lack of use. But there still are issues, the wash backs which are barely 15 years old are leaking when they should last 30-50 years. This is a symptom of not being filled, heated and steam cleaned continually which would cause them to seal better and last longer.
I was disappointed by the state of Glengyle, the whisky is excellent by the distillery looks dilapidated from under use. J&A Mitchell & Co don’t have the physical resources to operated both Springbank and Glengyle simultaneously, but it’s a shame Glengyle doesn’t get more use.
We finished the day with a lovely lunch at Cadenheads Whisky Shop tasting room, with Gavin McLachlan, Springbank Distillery Manager and Findlay Ross, Director of Production at J&A Mitchel & Co and were presented with a certificate of completion and a special bottle of Springbank whisky.
The Springbank Whisky School really is the ultimate experience for a true whisky enthusiast and at roughly £250 per day for three meals a day, accommodation, near unlimited distillery access, whisky (some very rare) and a chance to meet and work alongside the people that make Springbank the most authentic and, in my opinion, the ‘best’ distillery in Scotland; exceptional value.