Sipping Tour Through Scotland - Campbeltown

18-04-2017 By Whisky of the Week

Leaving the Isle of Arran we take the scenic route to Campbeltown. We get on the ferry at Lochranza and cross onto the Kintyre peninsula. We drive down the western coast until we turn east towards Campbeltown. Soon we arrive in the tranquil little town of Campbeltown and we drive straight into some history. Arriving in the middle of the town, you’ll find the Campbeltown Cross, a medieval Celtic cross dating back to the 1300’s; at 3.3m high, it features a mermaid, a sea monster and various animals. Standing on the shore, you’ll see Davaar Island.

Campbeltown Cross - Image credit:

Davaar is a tidal island, linked to the mainland by a natural causeway. You can walk there during low tide. It has a lighthouse and the island is known for its seven caves. One of the caves contains an eerie life size painting depicting the crucifixion. It was painted in 1887 by local artist Archibald MacKinnon.

Archibald MacKinnon's Crucifixion, image credit:

The Mull of Kintyre is the southwestern most tip of the Kintyre Peninsula about 16 km from Campbeltown. On a calm, clear day you can see the Antrim coast of Ireland.

Campbeltown whiskies are an interesting assortment of tastes. Characteristics include a dryness with a full-bodied taste combined with peat, smoke and hints of salt from the rolling sea mists from the Mull of Kintyre. Someone described it as “a cross between the Lowlands and the Western Highlands with a pinch of salt thrown in for good measure.”

During the 1800’s Campbeltown was the most prolific of all of Scotland’s whisky distilling regions, earning itself the nickname ‘whisky capital of the world’ long before Dufftown became famous. There were no fewer than 34 distilleries on this small and remote settlement at the bottom of the Kintyre Peninsula.

The region had plenty local farms growing barley, combined with nearby peat bogs and a bustling port in close proximity to Glasgow and Ireland: all the ingredients needed to produce great quality whisky. Whisky drinkers around the world love the peaty, salty taste of the Campbeltown drams and demand exceeded production.

This led to short cuts and a decline in the quality of the whisky. Speyside whisky was on the way up and consumers developed a taste for the sweeter side of whisky and demand plummeted. World War 1 and the American Prohibition further impacted demand and by the end of the 1920’s only 1 distillery remained.

Today, there are 3 distilleries in Campbeltown offering 5 brands between them, including the newer Glengyle, Glen Scotia and Springbank, but it remains the smallest whisky-producing region in Scotland. Springbank distillery produces Longrow, Springbank and Hazelburn. Although all 3 Springbank brands are distinctly different, they are robust and noticeably smoky. Glengyle produces the sweet, fruity and spiced Kilkerran and it is owned by the same company that owns Springbank. Glen Scotia is known for a light and grassy palate. The whisky produced in Campbeltown today is enduring and distinctive.

Glen Scotia Distillery, image credit:

Our trip takes us to the Springbank Distillery for a tasting. Springbank distillery was established in 1828 on the site of Archibald Mitchell’s illicit still.

Springbank Distillery, image credit:

Today the distillery is managed by Mitchell’s great, great grandson – the fifth generation of the Mitchell family to own and manage Springbank. The full whisky-making process happens on site. Of their 3 different releases, the Springbank Single Malt is the most popular. The Springbank range includes a 12 Year Old, 15 Year Old, 18 Year Old and a 21 Year Old. We are starting our tasting with the Springbank 10 Year Old in the beautiful Springbank tasting room. The Springbank 10 Year Old is matured in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. It is rich with notes of pear, vanilla, malt with hints of cinnamon spice and nutmeg. There are peaty notes carefully balanced with exotic fruits and cereal sweetness. The finish has a sweet and slightly salty taste with hints of oak.

Springbank 10 Year Old, image credit:

Next up on the tasting menu is the Springbank 18 Year Old. Matured in 80% ex Sherry casks and 20% ex Bourbon cask, this dram is fruity with notes of banana and barley. It is an oily whisky and the smoke and coastal notes come through mixed with aniseed, dried fruit and spices. The Springbank 18 Year Old has a wonderful, lengthy finish.

Springbank 18 Year Old, image credit:

We get to taste a few more drams, with the most notable being the Longrow 18 Year Old. The Longrow range includes the Longrow Peated and the Longrow Red. The Longrow Red is quite interesting as it is released annually in small quantities and every year a different type of red wine cask is used to mature the whisky.

The star of the show is, however, the 18 Year Old. Longrow is a highly peaty whisky. This dram was first made as an experiment in creating peaty whisky in Campbeltown, but it proved so popular that it is now a standard in the range. The Longrow 18 Year Old is complex and rich with notes of apple and sweet fruit salad balanced with peat and smoke. There are hints of chilli, pepper and smoke mixing playfully with some honey, truffles and dark chocolate. The finish is oily with spicy dried fruit and peat notes. Big and bold, tasting it is an experience that will not quickly be forgotten.

Longrow 18 Year Old, image credit:

Slowly this virtual whisky sipping tour is drawing to a close. From here we take the long road to the last Scottish region, a slow drive to the peatiest place of them all, Islay. Until next time.