Campbelltown Whiskey Run

Last year marked my Father’s 70th birthday…

 

And we decided to mark the occasion in the same way that he and his brother marked the occasion of my grandfather’s 70th, namely, a trip to visit our relatives in Campbelltown, Scotland. I had never been to Scotland and had always heard stories about our relatives from my dad and uncle, so as you can imagine I was very excited to take the trip.

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Campbelltown Harbor

Campbelltown itself is a highly isolated community, near the southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula. your options in getting to the place are as follows: drive for close to four hours around the Loch from Glasgow, Take a ferry, or fly in a ten seat pond jumper to the dis-proportionally large Campbelltown Airport. The tarmac at the Campbelltown airport is, apparently so long because it is the first airstrip that a flight from west to east would encounter and is meant to accomidate any aircraft that has an emergency situtaion. It was also used, aparently as an RAF station for some years.

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The Machrihanish Golf Club borders directly on the Campbelltown airport and is a local staple. The course itself was designed by the legendary “Old Tom” Morris.

The town was at its height through the mid to late 1800’s and into the years just before the first world war. With a staggering 33 distilleries (mind you, thats just the LEGAL ones) the town became known as the “Whiskey Capital of the World” and the town itself became the namesake for an entire style region of Scotch Whiskey. The west of Scotland, specifically the peninsula, is not well wooded. Peet was (and to a point still is in rural places) the primary heat and energy source and of course therefore, was also used in the process of smoke-drying malted barley before that barley is distilled into delicious whiskey. That smoke leaves a heavy, distinctive flavor behind, a flavor that simply does not exist in Scotch whiskey outside of Campbelltown and the Isles.

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Springbank Distillery is one of only three remaining distilleries in Campbelltown.
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The malting floor of Springbank Distillery. Springbank still malts their barley the exact same way they have for over a hundred years, marking them as a truly traditional institution.

The glory days wouldn’t last however. During the years of the First World War, resourses and provisions were rationed throughout the U.K., leaving the distilleries to fight for scraps. The severe shortage of supplies led to worse and worse whiskey quality until the majority of the distilleries could no longer afford to do business. Rumor has it that at the height of the supply shortages, some distilleries resorted to using fish barrels from the harbor as casks, you can imagine that this method only broadened the distilleries’ problems. By the end of World War 2, Campbelltown was a shadow of its former glory. A few did remain though, and today they produce an incredible product. Three distilleries remain in the town today: Glen Scotia, Sbringbank and Glengyle. The latter of the three was reopened only recently in 2004 and released its first 12 year whiskeys in 2016, the year we visited. With the opening of Glengyle, Campbelltown was added once again to the Scottish Whiskey map as its own style region for the first time since after World War 2.

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The aging warehouse at Glen Scotia Distillery.

My father and I had the privilege of trying all of the malts made in Campbelltown and we became instant fans. I can truly say that the smoky, wonderfully wholesome taste of the Campbelltown style made me a true believer in Scotch whiskey and i have kept a collection at home ever since. I will be writing an article shortly on the specific malts and there is more to come with regards to our wonderful time in Scotland.

Stay tuned, and wander on!

-Ryan