Campbeltown Chronicles: Part 2

My previous (and first) visit to Campbeltown was in March 2015. On this occasion, I had booked a place at the Campbeltown Backpackers Bunkhouse; a refurbished old schoolhouse which now functions as an unstaffed hostel. The place looked great but, upon my arrival, I realised that the only other guest was a guy who, at best, could be described as resembling the villain from Scooby Doo. As images of me scrambling around on the floor shouting “My glasses! I can’t see without my glasses” came into my head, I decided to check into a cosy B&B just up the road instead. Less money for whisky, I guess, but that’s the price I pay for being a wuss.

This year, my accommodation was a cottage at Rhoin Farm about three miles outside Campbeltown. I was sharing with fellow whisky enthusiasts Jo Lawson, Klaus Doblmann, Stefan Hödlmoser, Florian Strauβ and Viva Lenoir. With the exception of Florian, none of them looked too villainous…

Our first full day of the Campbeltown Malts Festival took us off in different directions initially. In the morning, Jo, Klaus, Stefan and Florian all headed off to the Springbank Society tasting whereas Viva and I set off in the direction of Glen Scotia for the distillery’s open day.

Glen Scotia seemed to generate a mixed reaction from my housemates. However I, for one, am a great fan. Some people in my local whisky club think that I must be working on some kind of commission as I’m always singing the praises of the Double Cask expression. It’s a non-age statement whisky at 35 quid a bottle and, despite whatever conclusions you draw from “finished in first-fill bourbon barrels”, I consider it to be a very well crafted whisky.

With Viva as my partner in crime, we went to the distillery’s open day bar. Other than the Double Cask, I tried the following three drams. I didn’t write tasting notes but here they are, from memory, in order of preference from left to right (with each retailing at around the £150 mark):

Glen Scotia Stillman's ReserveStillman’s Reserve – distilled July 2000; bottled December 2016 at 59.7%
Glen Scotia Single Cask Distillery EditionSingle Cask Distillery Edition – distilled March 2006; bottled December 2016 at 57.2% abv
Glen Scotia Festival EditionSingle Cask Festival Edition – distilled October 2001; bottled May 2017 at 57.1%

I thought they were good, but not £150 worth of good.

Next was the dunnage warehouse tasting with Iain McAlistair, the distillery manager. He was also joined by some bloke from the film, The Angels’ Share 😉

Now, if Viva and I were ever to come back in another life as stills, she would be Glenmorangie: tall, slimline, elegant. I, on the other hand, would be Mortlach: short, dumpy, robust. When you’re a vertically challenged Mortlach at a busy warehouse tasting, you end up with crap photos of other people’s backs. Apologies, but this was the best I could do:

Glen Scotia whisky tasting

We tried four drams, straight from the cask:

  1. 2001 Ex bourbon cask 560
  2. 1989 Refill sherry cask 316
  3. 2009 Ex bourbon medium peated cask 117
  4. 2013 Ex bourbon heavily peated cask 96

My favourite, by far, was the refill sherry cask followed by the unpeated bourbon cask. Both peated expressions seemed to overwhelm the spirit’s character; others at the tasting really liked it but they just weren’t the drams for me. I’ll publish tasting notes in a subsequent post; this one is probably too long already. Well done to Glen Scotia for including a 20cl bottle of your choice, from one of the four casks, in the price of the tasting.

After a quick lamb burger for lunch (which I can honestly say I’ve never had to say or write before in my life), we met up with the others and headed back into town for Kate Watt’s Liquid History Tour.

This was a walking tour, taking in the sites of Campbeltown’s distilling past, with a few drams along the way. I don’t know Kate as well as the others in the group. However, anyone who can make a bus depot seem that magical is worth knowing in my book. The site of the Benmore distillery is where we had our first dram: The Lost Distillery Company’s Dalaruan (named after the Campbeltown distillery which existed from 1824 to 1922).

Other drams included a Cadenhead’s Caol Ila 24 years at the old Lochhead warehouse site and the Campbeltown blend as we finished at Springbank distillery itself.

The evening started with a dinner at the Ardshiel hotel for Jo, Klaus, Viva and me whilst Florian and Stefan opted for haggis nachos at The Black Sheep. After our three courses, each paired with a dram, we headed to The Feathers to regroup and catch up with some of the other festival goers to talk about the day’s events.


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