Campbeltown is the smallest whisky region in Scotland, but it's a firm favourite among connoisseurs. Once upon a time, there were 30 distilleries in the town, and it was known as The Whisky Capital of the World, but these days only 3 distilleries remain. Don't let that put you off, though - what they lack in quantity, they more than make up for in quality!
Campbeltown is located almost at the end of the Mull of Kintyre, a long peninsula about a 3-hour drive from Glasgow. If you have the time, an even better way to get here is to take the ferry from Ardrossan to the Isle of Arran and then the small ferry from the north of Arran across to Claonaig on Kintyre.
In its heyday in the late 1800s, Campbeltown benefitted from the fact that it was only a few hours from Glasgow by sea. Combined with the excellent conditions for growing barley locally and access to cheap barley from Northern Ireland (just a few miles across the water), this gave it an advantage over more remote areas. However, when railways started to be built into the Highlands, the town lost its transport advantages and because it was "churning out whisky in volume ... with little concern for quality" (to quote whisky expert Clay Risen), it very quickly lost out to the higher-quality whiskies being produced further north.
You can probably tell that Campbeltown is one of our favourite whisky destinations - get in touch if you'd like us to organise a tour to take you there. This amazing whisky itinerary featuring Campbeltown might also give you some inspiration.
Springbank Distillery - Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn
Springbank is owned by J & A Mitchell & Company, who also own Glengyle Distillery and bottler WM Cadenhead. The distillery was first licensed in 1828, and these days it produces about 750,000 litres of spirit each year.
Three different brands of single malt are produced here: Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn - each with a different distillation process. This is the only distillery in Scotland where every step in the whisky-making process - from malting to bottling - is performed in-house.
Springbank is a peated whisky distilled two and a half times in a complex scheme (similar to Mortlach in Speyside). This makes for a really interesting spirit with great depth of flavour.
Longrow is a heavily peated whisky that's been double-distilled. Named after a now-closed distillery, the standard bottling has no age statement, and they have regular releases of experimental casks. They also do an annual release called the Red Edition using a different type of red wine cask every year.
Hazelburn is an unpeated triple-distilled whisky. First distilled in 1997, there are regular 10- and 12-year-old releases.
Springbank offers some of the best distillery tours in Scotland - it's the only place you can get behind the scenes of the malting process as well as seeing the distillery itself.
- A basic distillery tour (with a couple of drams to taste)
- A dedicated tasting session
- The "Wee Toon" tour, which includes a walk around the town as well as two distillery visits, a whisky tasting and lunch
- The Barley to Bottle tour - our personal favourite - this starts with a behind-the-scenes tour of the distillery before moving on to the warehouses for a short tasting. The highlight, however, is the chance to create your own personal whisky by blending together different samples of Springbank. Lunch is also included!
The best place to buy the Springbank single malts is the Cadenhead shop in Campbeltown (see below).
Glengyle Distillery - Kilkerran
Glengyle is the sister distillery to Springbank and is also owned by J & A Mitchell & Company. For a few weeks each year, production stops at Springbank and everyone moves up the road to Glengyle.
Originally opened in 1873, production at Glengyle stopped in 1925 and wasn't revived until 2004. The first releases of the new spirit have received rave reviews, and it's now one of the most sought-after single malts in Scotland.
Whisky from the distillery is marketed under the label Kilkerran - this is because Glengyle is a brand of vatted malt produced by Loch Lomond Distillers. Kilkerran comes from the Scottish Gaelic: Ceann Loch Cille Chiarain ("head of the lake of Saint Kieran's cell").
Visiting: Glengyle offers a basic distillery tour, but if you do the "Wee Toon" tour at Springbank (see above), you'll also get a tour around Glengyle.
The best place to buy Kilkerran is the Cadenhead shop (see below).
Glen Scotia Distillery
Glen Scotia has been around since 1832 - it's often referred to as The Scotia or just Old Scotia. Today, it's owned by Loch Lomond Distillers.
The range of single malts has been designed to retain an authentic Campbeltown style - the flavour is lots of toffee and salt, with a hint of smoke.
Visiting: Glen Scotia has an onsite shop with a huge range of tastings. They also offer tastings in the warehouse, as well as a distillery tour.
Our personal favourite is the Dunnage Tasting - you get to taste 5 drams drawn straight from the cask in the warehouse under the expert guidance of the distillery staff.
Wm Cadenhead is probably the most famous independent bottler and whisky shop in the world. It was founded in 1842 in Aberdeen and moved to Campbeltown in 1972. These days, it is part of the same group as Springbank and Glenglye Distilleries.
As bottlers, Cadenhead pioneered the idea of keeping things natural - no chill filtering and no colouring or additives of any kind.
The Campbeltown shop is a true mecca for whisky drinkers from all over the world. The range is simply staggering - as well as being the best place to buy hard-to-find releases from the local distilleries, their own-brand bottlings of whisky (and sometimes whiskey), rum, gin and brandy cater to every taste and budget.
As well as buying whisky, there are a few options for tastings:
- The Cadenhead's Warehouse Tasting is probably the best warehouse whisky tasting anywhere - their huge range and the expertise of the staff make this an unmissable experience
- The Cadenhead's Taste It Tasting takes you on a journey across all of Scotland's whisky regions
- If you're short of time, they also offer whisky flights - 3 specially-selected whiskies starting from the bargain price of £5
Hall's of Campbeltown
If one whisky shop isn't enough for you, then pop round the corner to Hall's.
Even though they only opened in 2019, the shop already has a great range and the staff are massively knowledgeable. Hall's is owned and run by the husband and wife team behind Beinn-an-Tuirc Distillers (makers of Kintyre Gin, based just a few miles north of Campbeltown).
This is also the place to stock up on the latest releases from Watt Whisky - a new independent bottler run by Kate and Mark Watt, who are already making waves in the whisky world.
After a hard day of tours and tastings, what better place to relax than a whisky bar?
The bar at the Ardshiel Hotel has over 700 malts to choose from and has won numerous awards for its range and the expertise of its staff.
If you're lucky enough to be in Campbeltown on the first Friday of the month, make sure you go along to the Friday Dram Club - it's great fun, great value, and always really interesting.