Anyone who knows anything about Kensington Wine Market knows WE LOVE SPRINGBANK! They are Scotland’s most traditional distillery and are stubbornly so. We love how they cling to traditions and practices with a reverence for the old ways. Our only regret is that Scotland’s oldest family-owned distillery doesn’t make more whisky. But that which it does is generally excellent.
Springbank Distillery was licensed and established in 1828 by William Reid, though we know his family was distilling illicitly well before this. A Campbeltown-based coppersmith made no fewer than 400 “sma’ stills” between 1811 and 1817, with a number of them purchased by Mitchells and Reids. Reid proved to be less adept at legitimate business than illicit distilling and sold to his in-laws, the Mitchell’s, in 1937. The Mitchell family had deep roots in Campbeltown and distilling, having moved there from the Lowlands as settlers in the 1660s. Some members of the clan were respected “maltsters”.
By 1814 there were 22 licensed distilleries, and many more illicit stills on the southern Kintyre Peninsula. In 1825 Archibald Mitchell became a partner at Rieclachan Distillery in Campbeltown. The Springbank Distillery was built three years later on a site which Archibald had previously used to distill illicitly. It became the 14th legal distillery in the town proper. Archilbald’s sister Mary Mitchell built the Drumore Distillery, also in Campbeltown, in 1835, as demand for legal whisky continued to rise. John and William Mitchell, Archibald’s sons, took ownership of the distillery in 1837. The following year they sold a certain John Walker of Kilmarnock 188 gallons of whisky.
The brothers remained in business together until 1872 when they allegedly had a falling out over sheep, as was often the case at this time in Scotland. William left to found the Glengyle Distillery (refer to Day and John was joined in the business by his son Alexander; hence the parent company name J&A Mitchell & Co. The decades following were a prosperous and dizzy time for the town of Campbeltown. At its peak, the town and surrounding area had no fewer than 35 licensed distilleries, making it the undisputed whisky capital of Scotland. Proximity to Transatlantic shipping routes and the discovery of a coal seam at Machrihanish on the other side of the peninsula helped fuel the industry. In 1891, near the peak of not just the distilling boom, but also the height of the British Empire, Campbeltown and its fewer than 2000 residents, was reputed to be the wealthiest per capita town in the UK.
Boom turned to bust, as it almost always does. The first decade of the 20th Century saw the closure of no fewer than 50 distilleries in Scotland. Campbeltown’s distilleries were especially hard hit with all but 3 shuttered by 1910. Hazelburn Distillery would be the last Campbeltown Distillery to close its doors, doing so in 1925 and leaving just Springbank and Glen Scotia in operation. Springbank too would close its doors, albeit temporarily, between 1926 and 1933. The distillery has remained in the hands of the Mitchell/Wright family for 5 generations. Hedley Wright, now in his late 80s, is the current Chairman, but he will be the last member of the family to own the business, as the family tree ends with him. On his passing, the parent company, Springbank and Glengyle Distilleries, as well as WM Cadenhead, will be put into a series of trusts to benefit the town.
The distillery operates today much as it did 100 years ago, with almost no automation. Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland to malt 100% of its own barley, and until this year even continued to abide by a law rescinded more than half a century ago that prohibited distilleries from malting and distilling at the same time. The distillery is also one of the few to bottle on site.
Springbank produces 3 distinct styles of single malt whisky. The regular Springbank is 2 1/2 times distilled (a very unusual practice of fractional distillation) and lightly peated. In 1973 Springbank started producing a heavily-peated style of whisky, to be more of an Islay style single malt. The whisky was named Longrow after another closed distillery and is double distilled like the vast majority of Scottish malts. Hazelburn was first produced in 1997, and is an unpeated triple distilled single malt. Frank McHardy, the recently retired distillery manager worked for a spell in Ireland where triple distillation is more common, and on return to Campbeltown he started producing this triple distilled whisky. It is a natural fit for the distillery which, along with Auchentoshan, is one of only two in Scotland with three pot stills.
Image courtesy of @frombarreltobottle
Today’s whisky is another special treat. It is a distillery
visitor center bottling of Springbank. Distilled in 2008 and matured in a first fill Ex-Bourbon barrel, the whisky was bottled at 46% without colouring or chill filtering, as is always the case at Springbank. This whisky is available nowhere but the distillery and in the Kensington Wine Market 2018 Whisky Advent Calendar.
Springbank Distillery Visitor Center 10 Year - 46% – First Fill Ex-Bourbon – Distilled 2008 –
Andrew’s Tasting Note
Nose: I am immediately drawn to the fruitiness of the whisky, like opening assorted pots of jam near a peat fire; loads of decadent ripe berry fruits, honey and tarry peat oils; freshly peeled oranges and lemons too.
Palate: round, malty and fruity with more round, doughy peat oils; salty-ashy smoke and more bright berry fruits; honey, marmalade and jam on the palate with white chocolate and shortbread; the body is thick and coating.
Finish: long, honeyed and creamy; gently smoky and ashy with more berry and citrus fruits tones.
Comment: this is old school Springbank, worthy of a pilgrimage to the most traditional distillery in Scotland!” - $13 (mini / 50mL bottle only)