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Book Springbank & Kilkerran Distillery Tours

Our advice? Book both and make a day of it!

Photo of author, John

By John

Campbeltown Whiskies

Campbeltown is well-known for being the whiskiest place in the world, especially in its heyday during the Victorian era when there were around 35 distilleries! There’s enough that’s already well written about the history of this region already though,  what I’ll tell you about here are the tours.

Distillery Tours

During December 2021, I was lucky enough to tour the Springbank and Mitchell’s Glengyle distilleries. For those that don’t know, the Mitchell Glengyle Distillery produces Kilkerran whisky and is on (or at least within a stones throw) of the Springbank Distillery site.  Springbank produce Hazelburn, Springbank and Longrow whisky. The two sites are involved and entwined in an interesting story that’s explained wonderfully during the tours, so I won’t spoil it for you. Needless to say, these two distilleries may not be alone much longer.

You can book both tours through the Springbank website or the Kilkerran one, we list both for your convenience:

Springbank Tours for Springbank, Hazelburn and Longrow whisky – http://springbank.scot/tours/

Mitchell’s Glengyle Tours for Kilkerran – https://kilkerran.scot/tours/

At the time of writing, the tours are only £10 each and both take a good hour to do so they’re well worth it for that alone.

What you get

For each tour you also get a wee dram glass, a wee dram for the driver in the party (or if the Washback Bar is closed) and a miniature, as well as a very informative guide showing you around. It’s unbelievable value and I thoroughly recommend it.

I was in a small group consisting of three people and we got shown around in a very covid-safe manner but first I have to mention the shop. When I entered the shop, I was struck by how good it looked. I’m not sure what I was expecting but the colouring of the merchandise, the sparkling presentation, the pristine wood shelving and the discretely placed spotlights gave me a fantastic first impression. 

Looking around there were all manner of own branded clothing available, various prestigious accessories and, of course, the whiskies. I had a couple of questions, and the assistants were all very helpful and pleasant and an absolute credit to the Wee Toon.

The Springbank Distillery Tour

For the Springbank tour we were guided by Jim. He took us through the entire process, from malting to bottling. Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland where the entire process takes place in the distillery itself. Not only that but there were some very old pieces of equipment used from when the distillery first opened that are still in service today! It was absolutely fascinating to hear the stories about where some equipment came from and gave a real insight into the history, not only of the distilleries, but of Campbeltown’s extraordinary heritage too.

RELATED:   A day out at Saddell Bay

The Mitchell’s Glengyle (Kilkerran) Distillery Tour

For the Kilkerran whisky tour (Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery) Craig took us around. Again, he was very knowledgeable and just like Jim, answered questions with ease. The Kilkerran tour starts at the same shop but from there takes a slightly different route. The maltings are the same, as is the kiln but then we branch off into the different distillery and see how the process, while similar, has its own distinct flavour.

Photo of Kilkerran Distillery

Photos of the tours

I’ll leave you with some photo’s that I took of both tours. Please bear in mind we were heading into the Christmas close down of the distillery so there was no malting going on and production was shutting down. In addition, the Omicron variant was in the headlines and businesses were starting to take more precautions, which is why the new Washback Bar was closed. I thoroughly enjoyed my take home drams though!

Overall, the tours are an excellent experience and well worth the price. I can’t recommend them enough.

Springbank distillery shop

Photo of distillery shop interior

A quick snap of the interior with enticingly presented goodies

Malting

When we viewed there was no production as it was Christmas, but imagine if you will the floor covered in barley having being steeped in water. The team manually turn this every three days to trick it into germinating where it becomes malt.

Springbank use water pumped directly from Crosshill Loch, just above the Wee Toon near Ben Ghuilean. 

Kilning

Jim showed us the kiln and the super trade secrets detailing how the three whisky's distinct flavours come into being. The sugar-laden malt is now dried over the kiln according to the plaque's instructions.

And here's the peat, from Elgin, that gives the whisky its deep, aromatic flavour.

Milling (Springbank)

After kilning, the malt is milled into Grist using this superb 1940s Porteous Mill.

Milling (Kilkerran)

This beast of a mill is a Boby mill and was obtained free when Craigellachie Distillery updated their equipment. Craig had us in stitches when he told us the story of the flatbed trailer and the quest to get the mill back to Campbeltown!

Mashing (Springbank)

The grist is added to hot water which extracts all the lovely sugars into the liquid.

This is done three times with some of the extract used to kickstart the process for the next batch. The bulk goes into the next stage. By the way, this old mash tun is cast iron!

Fermentation (Springbank)

After all the excitement, the sugary liquid is added to the fermentation vats that are made from boatskin larch, not stainless steel ones that are in common use these days.

If there's one thing that sets Springbank apart, it's the adherence to using traditional methods. This sings through everything, from the finished product and the pride in every employees face. 

Fermentation (Kilkerran)

The sugary liquid is added to the fermentation vats that are (as in Springbank) made from boatskin larch, not stainless steel. 

 

We were told that they are generally kept full of water during periods of no production to prevent the wood drying out and developing leaks.

Distillation (Springbank)

The liquid from what I would call "fermentation vats" or wash backs as they are actually known, is all pumped through to the three stills Springbank uses to produce its malt whiskies. 

From there the stillman monitors the spirit safe and you get the whisky ready to be casked.

Springbank is distilled two-and-a-half times, Longrow two and Hazelburn three.

Distillation (Kilkerran)

The wort from the wash backs is all pumped through to the stills.

 

From there the stillman monitors the spirit safe and you get the whisky ready to be casked.

 

 

Casks of the stuff

At the end stage the casks are filled with the various whiskies and this is where they get a lot of their flavour from. Sherry and bourbon casks are used and the whisky ages in these for at least three years (to be called whisky) and often for much longer. 

Each cask can only be used a maximum of three times before it's deemed finished, and then you'll find them adorning pubs and gardens as flower pots. 

I haven't really mentioned the bottling as there was nothing happening during my visit, but the whisky is married to Crosshill Loch water for six months before bottling at 46%ABV, however some whiskies are left at cask strength.

I was reminded of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when we saw where the casks were aging. I'm sure you will be too and something tells me Jim and Craig may have heard that one before!

Thank you Jim, Craig and all the team at Springbank and Mitchell's Glengyle!

Ken ye how a Whig can fight, Aikendrum, Aikendrum
Ken ye how a Whig can fight, Aikendrum
He can fight the hero bright, with his heels and armour tight
And the wind of heavenly night, Aikendrum, Aikendrum

James Hogg, 1770 to 1835