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Monday
Feb222010

Springbank And The History Of Campbeltown

In anticipation of our gigantic purchase of Springbank 9 Year due to hit the Oakland ports this week, I am providing the backstory for the distillery and the region itself - Campbeltown - which is still considered one of the five Scottish whisky regions, despite containing only three distilleries. 

The truth is that Campbeltown used to be home to 22 working distilleries and, by the end of the 18th century, was the capital of whiskymaking in Scotland.  The Kintyre peninsula was the landing place for settlers in 1300 and remained important as a trade outlet to England and also to the West.  The city of Campbeltown was established in the early 1600's by the Dukes of Argyll to encourage farmers to practice agriculture in the region.  Where there is barley, there is whiskymaking and it wasn't long until a family named Mitchell moved to Campbeltown and became one of the area's top distillers. 

At the end of the 17th century the 21 distilleries in Campbeltown were pumping out millions of gallons a year and the town became one of the wealthiest in the UK.  The demand was so high they were forced to import barley from the Baltic! Yet with the rise of blended whisky, the bottom fell out as the heavy and oily whiskies of Campbeltown were passed over in favor of Speyside's lighter style.  Other factors such as the exhaustion of local coal supplies as well as the start of Prohibition in the U.S. played a role.  Those distilleries who were still selling direct to the Canadian middlemen were forced to lower their costs, and in turn, lower the quality of their whisky.  The introduction of low quality spirit was the end for Campbeltown. 

Springbank was one of the few that did not go under.  It was founded by the Mitchell family in 1828 and is run by the same family today, making it the longest continually owned distillery in the history of Scotland.  It is also the only self-sufficient one.  Springbank does all their own malting and sources all their peat locally, ages the whisky in their onsite warehouse, and does all their own bottling - a veritable whisky farm for proponents of sustainable living.  Today they produce their own signature lightly peated and full-flavored malts - of which we carry the 10 year and 15 year, the heavily peated Longrow, and the triple distilled and unpeated Hazelburn (the latter two named after defunct Campbeltown distilleries). 

In 2004, after 80 years of silence, Glengyle was reopened and refurbished giving Campbeltown its current total of three distilleries.  The whisky however will be called Kilkerran as the final distillery in the region, Glen Scotia, owns the Glengyle brand.  The stills at Glen Scotia have been run only off and on over the last few years and the bottlings have been inconsistent, making it an almost forgotten brand in the world of single malts.

Springbank, being an independently owned and operated distillery, almost never appears in an independent bottling, which is why the availability of this Murray McDavid 9 Year Old aced in Yquem cask is so exciting.  Giving a fantastic Campbeltown malt to Jim McEwan to enhance is a fantastic idea, so I can't wait to have it on our shelves.  I will post tasting notes on it when it arrives this week. 

Most of the info in this article comes from Michael Jackson's terrific book Whiskey.

-David Driscoll

 

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