“Oh, Campbeeltown Loch, I wish you was whisky;
Campbeltown Loch, och aye'
Campbeltown Loch, I wish you was whisky -
And I would drink you dry!'
(Popular Victorian Music Hall Song)
The Kintyre peninsula
The Kintyre peninsula - that long green finger which points towards Ireland - is the most southerly point on the West Coast. It was a haven for illicit distillers in days gone by. Some go so far as to claim that the art of distilling arrived here with the first Gaels from Ireland, in the 6th century.
Campbeltown, the only township of any size in Kintyre, was certainly one of the first centres of commercial distilling, and Campbeltown whiskies themselves had a reputation to rival Speyside. Between 1880 and the 1920s, there were thirty-four working distilleries here, producing some 2 million gallons of spirit per annum. Campbeltown vied with Elgin as 'the whisky capital'. Today there are only two distilleries, Springbank and Glen Scotia.
Springbank is a most distinguished whisky, described as 'Premier Grand Cru Classe' by the Sunday Times, following a tasting in 1983. The distillery was built about 1828 on the site of one Archibald Mitchell's illicit still. His descendants own and control the distillery to this day.
It is one of the most traditional of distilleries: the original buildings are still in use, they still have their own floor maltings and boatskin larch washbacks; a unique wash still is heated both directly (oil fired) and by steam coils, and employs and old fashioned copper 'rummager' to prevent solids scorching in the base of the still.
Glen Scotia was first registered as a distillery in 1835, but has had a somewhat chequered career. It was thoroughly overhauled in 1980, but closed in 1984 and only re-opened in 1989 after being sold to its current owners.
Campbeltown Malts' Charateristics
Campbeltowns are traditionally full-flavoured and full-bodied whiskies, famous for their depth of flavour and for their slightly salty tang in the finish. They were referred to as "'The Hector of the West', the deepest voice in the choir". The overall impression is often compared to 'sea mist'.
Springbank is the senior offering. It can take long maturation to great advantage, becoming raisiny and rich.