Campbeltown malt distillery.
Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky
The equipment at Springbank is resolutely old-style: an old Boby mill, an open-top cast-iron mash tun, wooden washbacks made from boatskin larch; and three stills, direct fire on one of them, a worm tub on another.
The malt is handled in three ways to produce three contrasting whiskies – Springbank itself is medium-peated, Longrow is heavily peated, while Hazelburn has no peat at all. Ferments are very long – in excess of 100 hours; with low-gravities which both produces a low-strength wash and high levels of esters. This fruity base is then distilled in three different ways, depending on the style being produced.
Springbank is partially triple-distilled. The wash still (which is direct fired) works as normal producing low wines, the strongest portion of which are directed to the spirit still charger. The remainder is redistilled in the intermediate still (which has a worm tub) and put into the feints receiver along with the heads and tails from the spirit still distillation.
This mix makes up 80% of the final charge, with the strong portion of low wines from the wash still making up the remaining 20%.
Unsurprisingly, the result is a highly complex new make that is collected at an average strength of 71-72% – lightly smoky, oily, fruity, delicately fragrant yet powerful.
Longrow is heavier and smokier – the malted barley obviously playing a significant part, but so does distillation in the direct-fired wash still and second distillation in the spirit still which has the worm tub. It is collected at 68%, lower than Springbank.
Hazelburn undergoes standard triple distillation and is collected at between 74-76% abv.
Maturation for all three is in a mix of casks – as well as the standard ex-Bourbon, ex-Sherry and refill, other types [wine and rum] and sizes [60 litre ‘rundlets' and 50 litre ‘kilderkins’] are used.
Continuity is the watchword at Springbank. This distillery has been in the ownership of the Mitchell family and its ancestors since 1837. Indeed, as its founder William Reid was related to the Mitchells by marriage you could argue that they were there from the word go.
It was in 1828 that Reid took out a licence, but there was a rich – and extensive – heritage of illicit distillation in the Kintyre Peninsula. Indeed, thanks to the Still Books of Campbeltown plumber and coppersmith, Robert Armour, we can accurately chart how many there were. The books show that Armour made 400 sma’ stills from 1811-1817, bringing him an income of £350 per year, and the surnames Reid and Mitchell appear in his detailed accounts.
Like many smugglers, Reid didn’t survive long once he joined the legitimate trade and in 1837 he sold to his in-laws John and William Mitchell. The latter brother left in 1872 to join his other two brothers at Riechlachan, at which point John’s son Alexander joined Springbank [hence the J&A Mitchell still on the label].
The 19th and early 20th centuries were a boom time for Campbeltown. Thanks to a fast sea crossing to Glasgow and a small coal seam at nearby Machrihanish it became Scotland’s whisky capital. At some point or other there were 35 distilleries operational. The style tended to be medium- to heavy-bodied, with some smokiness and an oily texture (though each distillery would work its own variation on this theme).
The distilling trade, however, collapsed in the 1920s. All of Scotland was affected with 50 distilleries closing, but Campbeltown was disproportionately affected, with only Springbank, Glen Scotia and Hazelburn surviving the Great Purge. By the 1960s only it and Glen Scotia were left.
That is not to say it was not immune to the vagaries of the whisky trade. Despite beginning to build a reputation as a single malt. Springbank was mothballed between 1979 to 1987. On reopening, owner Hedley Wright [John Mitchell’s great-great grandson] made the momentous decision to no longer sell to blenders, but develop single malt sales. Maltings were re-opened in 1992 and while the combination of managing limited stocks – the result of the mothballed period and somewhat over-eager sales of what was left – it has taken a number of years to get the Springbank range fully balanced, which now it is. It remains, deservedly, one of Scotland’s cult malt whiskies and a template for many new distillers.
- 1828 William Reid acquires a license for Springbank distillery in Campbeltown
- 1837 Reid sells the distillery to his in-laws, John and William Mitchell
- 1872 William Mitchell leaves the business and John's son, Alexander, joins Springbank
- 1897 J&A Mitchell is founded
- 1926 The distillery closes
- 1933 Springbank returns to production
- 1960 Springbank closes its maltings
- 1969 J&A Mitchell purchases independent bottler Cadenhead
- 1979 Springbank is mothballed once more until 1987, when a limited run is started
- 1992 The distillery reinstates its maltings
- 1997 Springbank begins its first production run of the malt that will become Hazelburn
- 1999 The world's first organic single malt, Dha Mhile, is launched
- Capacity (mlpa) i
- Condenser Type i
- Wash still and No2 low wines - Shell and tube, No1 low wines still - worm tank
- Fermentation Time i
- Heat Source i
- Wash still fire and steam kettles, spirit stills steam coils
- Malt Specification i
- Springbank 8-10ppm, Hazelburn 0ppm, Longrow 50ppm
- Malt Supplier i
- Scottish origin barley local to Campleton or East coast.
- Mash Tun Material i
- Cast iron
- Mash Tun Type i
- New-make Strength i
- Single Malt Percentage i
- Spirit Still Charge (l) i
- Spirit Still Shape i
- Spirit Still Size (l) i
- Stills i
- Warehousing i
- Racking and Dunnage
- Wash Still Charge (l) i
- Wash Still Shape i
- Wash Still Size (l) i
- Washback Charge (l) i
- Washback Size (l) i
- Washback Type i
- Boatskin larch
- Washbacks i
- Water Source i
- Crosshill Loch
- Yeast Type i
- J&A Mitchell & Company 1897 - present
- 1878 - 1897
- 1837 - 1878
- 1828 - 1837