Campbeltown enjoying a Scotch whisky renaissance

Campbeltown doesn't have a distinctive regional style – the use of peat varies by distillery, as do the casks used in finishing

PORTLAND, Ore. Nov. 10, 2016/ Troy Media/ – A whisky revival is underway in the Campbeltown region of Scotland.

Campbeltown is on the Kintyre Peninsula alongside Campbeltown Loch. It was once known as the “whisky capital of the world,” with as many as 28 distilleries running to capacity. It owes its name, Campbell’s Town, to Archibald Campbell, the Earl of Argyle, who was granted the site in 1667.

Its status as one of five officially recognized Scotch-manufacturing regions was revoked as its distilleries slowly withered away. By 2010, only two were left – Springbank and Glen Scotia. Its lost status was returned, however, when Glengyle, owned by J&A Mitchell & Co., announced it was starting a new distillery. Its first release was in 2014. The whisky will be sold under the name Kilkerran since a Highland blended malt named Glengyle is already on the market.

Campbeltown doesn’t have a distinctive regional style, although this may change if more distilleries operate there. The use of peat varies by distillery, as does finishing malt in casks that previously held other liquids. Stylistically, its distilleries feature elements typical of the Lowland and Islay distilleries. In addition, Springbank uses an unusual two-and-a-half-times distillation process, a combination of double and triple distillation, which creates its signature style.

Three brands – Hazelburn, Springbank and Longrow – are distilled at the Springbank distillery. Springbank has a portfolio of 17 expressions, all expensive to very expensive. Longrow has seven and Hazelburn just two. The distillery’s water source is Loch Crosshill. It uses two wash and two spirit stills, and produces about 600,000 gallons of alcohol per year, roughly two million bottles.

The Springbank 10 YO (46 per cent ABV) is the core expression of the Springbank style. It’s blended from a combination of sherry and bourbon cask-aged whiskies. It features a wide range of aromas, including candied citrus, ripe apples and pears, and a dried peat earthiness and hint of smoke.

On the palate, there is some cereal sweetness followed by distinctive spice notes of nutmeg and cinnamon, as well as a touch of vanilla. The finish is long, complex and features the classic interaction of smoke and cereal sweetness, with a hint of a savoury, saline tang.

Longrow 10 YO (46 per cent ABV) is a powerful, double distilled, peated whisky with a complex nose. It shows distinctive peat smoke with aromas of old leather and hints of sea breeze. On the palate, there is a sweet fruitiness followed by smoke and char, like ripe fruit roasted on a barbecue. The finish is long, dominated by smoke with hints of char and a salty, savoury note toward the end.

Hazelburn is a fully triple-distilled light whisky that features a nose of dried fruit, citrus peel, sweet caramel and nuts. On the palate, it offers mocha and coffee notes framed by a gentle, spicy, peat. The finish is long, with notes of coffee, chocolate, citrus and a bit of tropical spice.

The Glen Scotia distillery dates back to 1832, four years after the founding of Springbank, and has a storied pedigree. It has been in continuous operation for 184 years. The distillery was purchased by the Loch Lomond Group in 2014 and has undergone extensive renovation. The current production is around 125,000 gallons of alcohol, but this is expected to increase as new distilling capacity is brought into operation.

The distillery offers three core single malt expressions: a 15 YO (46 per cent ABV), a Double Cask (46 per cent ABV) offering and the Victoriana (51.5 per cent ABV).

The Double Cask expression features malt finished in a combination of first-fill bourbon barrels and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. The resulting malt whisky features a distinctive fruit profile with green and stone fruit notes, in particular apples and peaches, followed by vanilla and wood spice from the first-fill bourbon barrels, and the chewy, caramel, heavy, oily texture from the sweet sherry cask finishing. There are also elements of char, a hint of tangy marine brine, and even a touch of herbaceous notes on the finish.

The Victoriana expression is an attempt to craft a Scotch whisky typical of the style of Victorian Britain. Bottled at cask strength ABV, typical of the period, it features elements of dried fruit, candied citrus peel, with hints of chocolate and sugared toast.

The Glen Scotia 16 YO bottling is more reminiscent of Lowland malt. It features a distinct sweet note with aromas of citrus, honey and oatmeal. On the palate, there are dried stone fruit, especially apricot, and candied lemon zest, followed by a creamy, oily texture and hints of sea spray, biscuit and baking spices.

The house style of Kilkerran is in many ways reminiscent of Glen Scotia, but without the viscous, oily texture that characterizes the latter. On the nose, there is honey sweetness with a pronounced note of bitter orange zest and pepper, as well as aromas of baked/cooked apple and baking spice, especially cinnamon.

The palate features a creamy, custard texture, with elements of orange marmalade, caramel notes, vanilla, cinnamon and other baking spices. The finish features a distinctive sweet note, with slight hints of molasses-like sweetness combined with a dry peppery quality and tropical spices. Kilkerran offers a range of exotic cask finishes, from various types of sherry to Calvados, which further complement the house style and add aromas and flavours.

With three distilleries operating and collectively more than 40 expressions, the Campbeltown whisky renaissance is steadily gaining traction.

Joseph V. Micallef is an historian, best-selling author, keynote speaker and commentator on wine and spirits. Joe holds the Diploma in Wine and Spirits and the Professional Certificate in Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (London). Bottoms Up is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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