The Scottish west-coast region of Campbeltown is synonymous with whisky. It once reigned as the ‘Whisky Capital of The World’, 34 distilleries dotted around the small 223 hectare community. But after many years of hardship and decline, due to improved transport links working in favour of rival distillers in the north, and a decline in consumption due to World Wars, amongst other reasons, most of the distilleries ceased operations. Today, Campbeltown has just three working distilleries.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The three distillers producing in the region – Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia – are doing an incredible job at keeping the ancient whisky capital alive and in the spotlight, with many hopes for the future…
Is there room and potential for new or revived old distilleries in Campbeltown?
Absolutely, and I’m both surprised and disappointed that no-one other than our company has built a new whisky distillery in Campbeltown. We might not get back to the good old days of 34-plus distilleries but there is easily room for one or two more. Campbeltown has got everything going for it in whisky terms – our region status, a distinctive style of whisky, plenty of land and water, and last but not least, an incredible story to tell. I understand the attraction of building a distillery on Islay but I’d like to see more being done to encourage potential new distilleries in Campbeltown, as that would do wonders for the community in general and the number of whisky visitors we can attract.
Has there ever been an accident or mistake that resulted in a great whisky?
I think probably the best example of an accident, or at least partially unexplained occurrence that led to a great whisky is the pretty famous “green” Springbank, distilled in 1973 and bottled by Cadenhead’s in 1991. That’s an absolutely classic whisky, hugely popular amongst those who got the chance to taste it, and probably just as popular with those who collect whisky for investment. When the cask was sampled, it was noted that the whisky had a pretty weird green tinge to it, which no-one has ever been able to fully explain. One theory is that there was a stray nail in the cask somewhere and some kind of interaction between the metal and the spirit influenced the colour but I don’t think anyone really knows for sure. Whatever caused it certainly didn’t do the whisky any harm, that’s for sure.
Any other funny or interesting stories to share?
I’m not sure if this is funny or more in the interesting category, but the story of the green Springbank got me thinking about some other warehouse/maturation-related mishaps. We were picking casks for a recent release of Springbank 18 Year Old – I think it was the 2017 or 2018 release – and got some samples from a parcel of bourbon casks from warehouse seven, one of our dunnage warehouses. Our director of production Findlay Ross was extremely impressed with the quality and decided that they should be the casks used, so the warehouse team was dispatched to check the strengths so we knew now many we would need.
The guys did their stuff and when Findlay checked the records he saw the strength was only just above 47.1% ABV. That was very low compared to most casks we have at that age and dangerously close to our bottling strength of 46%, so he assumed a mistake had been made somewhere. He had the strengths double-checked and sure enough, 47.1% was correct. It turned out that the back corner of warehouse seven is actually below the level of the land outside it because the building backs onto a slope, which seems to have massively affected the loss from any casks matured there – either that or the angels thought they could take a bigger share from the back corner and no-one would notice…
At any rate, it appears that we effectively traded whisky for flavour in these casks and since they were caught in time, no harm was done. Needless to say, we’re now pretty careful about what we mature in there and how long for.
Sadly, this brings us to the end of our interview series. We would like to thank Ranald for giving his time and this incredible look into the world of Springbank. A big thank you also goes out those who submitted questions! We hope you enjoyed the series and keep your eyes out for more coming your way soon...