Campbeltown Malts Whisky Festival 2019

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Showcasing the best of Campbeltown's whisky, their annual festival ran this year from the 21st to the 24th of May.  With an invitation from Springbank Distillery to join them on their Open Day, Ian and I arrived by boat in Campbeltown harbour on Wednesday afternoon, ready to take part in one of the most talked about whisky festivals in Scotland, once known as 'The Whisky Capital of the World.'

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I'd been informed the Distillery was within 'toddling' distance from the harbour so, with our accommodation on the water sorted for the night, there was enough time for dinner and drinks at a lovely little restaurant in Longrow South called Food For Thought. Owners Billy and Gillian gave us a warm welcome and served us delicious food then directed us just along the road to the Kilbrannan Bar to try some whisky.  Landlord, James Robertson, looked after us well and the good-natured banter was a real bellyache.  "Where's the Distillery?" we asked as we were walking out the door, and with that the locals laughed and cried out simultaneously "Across the road!!!"

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The next morning, after imbibing a little too much Longrow Peated 15yo, we toddled to the Distillery and what a glorious day we had for it too.  It wasn't difficult to find, you simply had to walk up Main St from the harbour then follow the steady flow of people along Longrow South to find the welcome sign at the entrance, passing William Cadenhead's whisky shop en route.

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It was only 11am and already the atmosphere in the square was electric, with marquees serving whisky and whisky cocktails, craft and food stalls and a huge trailer right in the centre with live music playing all day long.  The longest queue was, of course, for the Springbank Whisky Bar, hailed the 'Best Bar in the World,' with special bottlings and limited releases all opened for one day only for visitors to sample and try.  Time was of the essence however, as our whisky tasting was at 1pm and after an awesome bbq'd burger served up by Food for Thought once again, we were ready to get started on tasting some usquebaugh.

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Melanie Stanger was exceptional as she talked around 100 of us through six expressions - all distinctly different - starting with the non-peaty zestiness of Hazelburn, then on to the perfectly balanced Springbank and finally the heavily peated Longrow, my favourite; that wonderful smoky finish just gets me every time.  I love it!

As we wandered back out into the square, the sun seemed even warmer and the glow from within was wonderful just as the next band struck a chord and the celtic music lulled people quietly into submission around the square.  It was time to sit back, soak up the sun, savour the moment and people watch.

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Before the sun went to our heads we decided to take a tour of the distillery. From the colourful malt barns where it all starts, Springbank is one of only a handful of distilleries left who malt their own barley using traditional floor malting methods.  Their small team of 6 (including 1 woman) work in teams of 2 over 3 x 8 hour periods turning the 6-inch layer of barley by hand using a heavy rake.  Definitley not for the faint hearted.  Try it for yourself if you visit!

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As our guide took us round the distillery I don't know if it was the whisky, the sun or just the sheer atmosphere of the place, but there's something very romantic about whisky and Springbank Distillery itself. 

Early settlers, the Mitchell family, founded the distillery in the 1660's and the burgeoning growth of illicit stills, many of which became legal in the early 19th century, ensured Campbeltown and their unique style of malts would be in demand for a long time to come. The 20th century brought many challenges for Scotland's whisky distilleries as many ceased trading and closed their doors but Springbank carried on and released some top quality whisky in the 90's and became a name synonymous with world class whisky.

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After the tour, where absolutely everything is done on site by hand, it was easy to understand why people travelled from all over the world for this one day in the year when Springbank showcased everything it does in a style like no other.  It truly is in a class of its own.

As the band continued to play in the square, the day drew to a close and visitors drifted off down the lane one by one, toddling home into the sunset, mesmerised and misty eyed by their choice of malts for the day, hoping to return again same time, same place, next year.

 

 

The final day of the festival was at Springbank's sister distillery, Glengyle, home of the Kilkerran Single Malt.  Unfortunately, the weather was against us so we set sail, homeward bound to Largs, before the wind and rain set in that came with that weekend.  Fortunately, we'll be lucky enough to enjoy a free tasting of the Kilkerran when it goes on its annual UK tour and comes to Largs in July.  Join us if you can and share a dram or two of this wonderful malt with their UK Sales Manager, the infamous Grant MacPherson.

We shall return Campbeltown and I hope some day you will too.  I can tell you the journey is most definitely worth it!

Slainte!

 

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