In a wee corner of Scotland, the smallest Whisky region thrives, with three unique independent distilleries: Glen Scotia, Springbank and Glen Gyle. Campbeltown boasts some of Scotland's most loved Scotches with distinct flavours of saltiness, maritime, oil and spice.
But, only 100 years ago this town was a mecca for Scotch production, with 35+ distilleries operating here, at one time this town was a true "Whisky Capital of the World". A few unexpected issues helped destroy this once powerhouse of the Scotch industry, namely prohibition resulting in poor quality spirit/whisky.
Anyway, back to now... Every year just before the famous Islay Malt & Music Festival (Feis Ille), the region of Campbeltown hosts their own festival "Campbeltown Malts Festival", this year it was (24th - 26th May). In a similar format to the Feis, each distillery takes a day and on that day they host their own open day. Organising many tastings, tours, special events, dinners, live music, local craft stalls and did I mention tastings...
Last week at the festival I attended Glen Scotias's warehouse tasting hosted by distillery manager Iain McAlister and Charlie Maclean. With four casks to draw and taste from, a huge gathering of over 60 people were able to experience this unique tasting, where we were treated to a 1989 refill sherry cask, a very young heavily peated cask, a lightly peated 2009 and a 2001 ex bourbon cask. All extremely different but all sharing the same signature notes of salt and oil. Supping and nosing while listening to the wisdom of both Iain and Charlie in the surroundings of a dunnage warehouse. A whisky lovers paradise.
The next day was Springbank's turn and in glorious sunshine, the crowds gathered early for this one as the prized open day bottlings were going on sale at 11am, I was in the queue from 9.20am to secure my bottles. An 11yo single cask Kilkerran, a 15yo single cask Springbank and a whopping 21yo single cask Springbank. After the hustle of the morning getting in line the rest of the day was a much more relaxed affair, enjoying the rays, chat, music and atmosphere. During the day Springbank open their much anticipated Whisky Bar, where you can choose from 89 different Whiskies, this is a huge highlight as many of the drams on offer are either long gone and forgotten or have never been available in the UK before. (see pic).
The final day belonged to Glen Gyle and Cadenheads. The tasting I had been waiting for was finally here, Cadenheads 175 anniversary tasting hosted by Mark Watt and held in Warehouse 10. With well over 140 malt lovers gathered / queuing (see pic) we were treated to some of the best closed distillery single cask Whiskies. Including Rosebank, Convalmore, Caperdonach and Littlemill.
After an afternoon being spoiled by outstanding malts, there really was only one last thing to do... head to Campbeltown's very own award winning whisky bar, The Ardshiel (and stockist of Angels' Share glassware). With the sun still out I was able to reflect on the past few days in the garden while enjoying the spoils of Flora and Marion's hospitality and superb single malt selection.
Campbeltown you are awesome...