At one time the heart of the whisky industry, Campbeltown, a small town of around 5000 souls, boasted an incredible thirty-four legal working distilleries and proclaimed itself the whisky capital of the world.
Unfortunately, pride comes before a fall and Campbeltown's fall was spectacular. It was brought about by a combination of factors, including the opening of the Highland train line which enabled blenders in the cities to buy rival whiskies that had been previously difficult to transport; and the greed of the Campbeltown producers, some of whom cut corners to boost output and delivered an inferior product. Today there are just three distilleries working in Campbeltown, and one of those, Glengyle, was only revived in 2004.
In the light of this hardship it is a testament to the fortitude of the Mitchell clan, who founded Springbank in 1828, that the distillery has remained under family ownership and has not only survived, but prospered. Springbank is one of the most traditional distilleries in Scotland and, remarkably, all aspects of production - from the malting of the barley through to the bottling of the finished whisky - are still carried out by hand in the traditional manner at the distillery itself.
The malt itself is distilled two and a half times, meaning that the low wines from the first distillation are collected and re-distilled with the feints, so that some of the spirit has been distilled twice and some three times.
This attention to detail and refusal to meddle with the old way of doing things must be a major reason for the quality of whisky produced at Springbank, which is frequently feted as amongst the very best in Scotland. The reputation of some of the malts produced at Springbank in the last few decades is almost unparalleled, and bottles of the 21 year old malt that were available on the high street for under £50 less than a decade ago now change hands for more than six times that price.
Springbank is also notable for producing not one but three different malt whiskies. In addition to the lightly-peated Springbank, which is produced in the quintessential Campbeltown style, the distillery also makes Hazelburn, an unpeated malt which is triple-distilled, and Longrow, a heavily-peated malt distilled twice. The company also bought the derelict Glengyle distillery in 2000 and re-equipped it (using customised stills from the defunct Ben Wyvis distillery). The first spirit was produced in 2004 and will be bottled as Kilkerran single malt at some point in the next few years.
Character and Style of Hazelburn