A Guide to Scotch Whisky Regions - Campbeltown

by Matt Chambers
at Whisky for Everyone


Campbeltown is the smallest and least known Scottish whisky region

This sub-region of the Highlands is home to just three distilleries, although two more are at the planning stage. But it was not always this way. Campbeltown was a powerhouse of the Scotch whisky industry during the mid to late Victorian era.

When renowned author Alfred Barnard visited there in 1885 when writing his seminal book, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, there were over 30 distilleries in the town and surrounding area. Nowhere in the modern world had so many distilleries, legal or otherwise, operated in such a small area.

The History of Campbeltown Whisky – Rise and Fall, Now Rising Again

In its heyday Campbeltown was an important fishing port and known as ‘the whisky capital of Scotland’. The original settlement was Kinlochkilkerran, which translates as ‘head of the loch by the church of Ciaran’. It was renamed as Campbell’s Town in the 17th century after Archibald Campbell, then Earl of Argyle, was granted the site in 1667. This has been shortened to Campbeltown over time.

The whisky industry in Campbeltown was founded on illegal distillation, as in much of Scotland. The remote location and rugged coastline made it difficult for authorities to get to or find illicit stills. The first official distillery was named Campbeltown and founded in 1815.

The 1820s and 1830s was a true boom time. Many distilleries were built and began production and Campbeltown started to gain a reputation for good single malts. At that time most of the whisky was used by blenders. By the 1860s the number of distilleries had swelled to over 30 and this continued into the early 20th century.

Several factors in combination ultimately contributed to Campbeltown’s downfall – its remote location, the non-building of a proposed railway link in the late 1890s, the Pattison Crash (an industry-defining slump in whisky prices caused by whisky brokers Robert and Walter Pattison in 1898), Prohibition in the USA (when the sale, manufacture and consumption of alcohol was banned between 1920 and 1933) and a focus on quantity rather than quality.

The ghosts of Campbeltown’s past can now be seen everywhere in the town. Street names carry old distillery references, distillery buildings have been repurposed while some lay derelict. There is an air of faded grandeur with past dominance a seemingly distant memory.

But all is not lost. Plans for new distilleries have been submitted to the local authorities. This may not bring back former glories, but it is the beginning of Campbeltown’s rebirth. This is not just important for the local area but also for the Scotch whisky industry.

Where is Campbeltown?

Campbeltown is in the region of Argyll & Bute at the southern end of the remote Kintyre Peninsula. This is on the rugged west coast of Scotland. The town faces eastward towards the Firth of Clyde, the isle of Arran and Glasgow. It sits on Campbeltown Loch, a small sea loch known as Loch Chille Chiarain in Gaelic.

The southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula is just 20 miles (32km) from the coast of Northern Ireland. As a result, Campbeltown is equidistant from Belfast and Glasgow sitting at 58 miles (93km) from each city.

The Key Characteristics of Campbeltown Whisky

The Campbeltown region is known for its lightly peated style of single malt whisky. This is often described as having soft, earthy, and gentle peat smoke. This adds savoury background aromas and flavours rather than dominating as in whiskies from the nearby island of Islay.

Peat remains in use despite modern alternatives being available. As with many distilleries on Islay and other Hebridean islands, the whiskies from Campbeltown have become associated with this. Therefore, the practise of peating the malted barley to low levels is maintained.

The Distilleries of the Campbeltown Whisky Region

There are just three distilleries operating in Campbeltown. Springbank is the oldest and was founded in 1828. It remains family owned by J & A Mitchell & Sons and is the most well-known. Bottlings and casks of Springbank are rare and highly desired by whisky collectors and investors.

Springbank is lightly peated as per the traditional Campbeltown style but also produces two other styles of single malt – the heavily peated Longrow and triple distilled Longrow. Both names pay homage to now-closed distilleries in Campbeltown and are produced in small batches each year.

On the other side of town sits Glen Scotia, which was founded in 1832. It was known simply as Scotia until the 1930s and is currently owned by Loch Lomond Distillers. Glen Scotia and Springbank were the only two distilleries to survive the catastrophic slump in Campbeltown’s fortunes.

The third distillery is Glengyle. This distillery was reborn by J & A Mitchell & Sons in 2000 having been closed for 75 years. It was originally founded in 1872 but closed in 1925. The single malts from Glengyle are bottled under the name of Kilkerran. This refers to the nearby Kilkerran Castle, which was built by King James IV in 1490.

Campbeltown’s Lost Names

With over 30 distilleries in the town during the late Victorian era, you are never far away from an old distillery building. Some have collapsed or been demolished but many remain. Arguably the most well-known of these are Hazelburn and Longrow, which have recreated by Springbank within their current range of whiskies.

Others of interest include Benmore, which closed in 1929 and is home to Campbeltown’s bus garage, Rieclachan (closed 1934) and Ardlussa – it closed in 1923 and is now a car mechanic’s workshop. The buildings of Glen Nevis (closed 1923) and Lochruan (closed 1926) also remain, while the site of the Lochhead distillery (closed 1928) is occupied by a supermarket.

For further information on the whisky regions of Scotland or the best whisky cask investment to make from Campbeltown, then please contact us below.

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