Springbank Distillery is unique. It is the oldest independent family owned distillery in Scotland. Founded in 1828 on the site of Archibald Mitchell's illicit still, the Springbank Distillery is now in the hands of his great-great grandson, Hedley G. Wright. It is the only distillery in Scotland to carry out the full production process on the one site. 100% of the traditional floor malting, maturation and bottling is done at the distillery in Campbeltown.
The Distillery produces the most hand made whisky in Scotland, with traditional production methods being used throughout the process, and human involvement at each and every stage. It is the only distillery in Scotland to have never chill-filtered, nor do we add any artificial colourings to any of our single malts. It is also the only distillery in Scotland to produce three different single malts, Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn, using three different production methods
For most of the 17th and 18th century, Campbeltown was a prominent smuggling centre. Following the Excise Act of 1823, taxes were reduced to such an extent that legal distilling at last became competitive against smuggling.
This really was the beginning of the golden years for Campbeltown distillers, who hastily began applying for licences. Campbeltown saw a total of 34 distilleries established during the boom of the 19th century and subsequently became known as "Whisky Capital of the World."
However, the levels of production were so high that it was inevitable the bubble would burst. The early part of the 20th century saw changes which had a detrimental effect on the Campbeltown whisky trade.
Overconfident in their Glasgow monopoly, some Campbeltown distillers became complacent, putting the emphasis on quantity, not quality, which led to the production of inferior spirit. This, coupled with post-war economic depression and prohibition in the United States, took its toll and by 1930 only three distilleries survived. Rieclachan closed in 1934, leaving only Springbank and Glen Scotia.
Springbank Distillery was officially established in 1828 on the previous illicit site of Archibald Mitchell, great-great grandfather of the present Chairman, Mr. Hedley Wright. It was Archibald's sons, John and William who took out a licence and distilled legally as J&W Mitchell
However, John and William were farmers as well as distillers, and quarrels about sheep eventually led them to go their separate ways. John took his own son Alexander into partnership and the name changed to J & A Mitchell & Co. Ltd., as it is today.
The Mitchell Family’s interest in distilling did not confine itself to just Springbank. The Mitchells were in fact one of several important distilling dynasties in Campbeltown. Archibald Mitchell had five children: Hugh, Archibald, John, William and Mary.
Young Archibald was an original partner in Rieclachan, and was soon joined by his brother Hugh. John bought out Toberanrigh Distillery which had originally been built by his cousin Alexander. Archibald Senior's only daughter, Mary, founded Drumore in 1834 and William, after being in partnership first with John at Springbank then with his other brothers at Rieclachan, went on to found Glengyle in 1872 which he pursued as sole proprietor.
Successive family generations have followed in John Mitchell's footsteps, and have strictly adhered to traditional methods of distillation. Indeed the distillery has remained much the same since 1828, albeit for a few subtle changes.
While history and tradition have a great influence on Springbank, the company is also looking to the future. In 2000, J & A Mitchell & Co. Ltd. purchased the buildings of the Old Glengyle Distillery which was founded by the same William Mitchell who took part in the establishment of Springbank; these have been refurbished, and on 25th March 2004 Mitchells Glengyle Distillery was opened. This means that the Mitchell family are now the owners of not only Scotland’s oldest independent distillery but also Campbeltown’s youngest.
Malting There are two traditional malting floors at Springbank, each holding between 10 and 12 tonnes. The first part of the production process involves soaking, or "steeping" the barley in water for 35 hours to increase the moisture content to around 47%, and to trigger germination.
This causes the production of enzymes in the grain that will convert starch into sugars during the later mashing process. The sprouting barley is spread on the floors and left for 5 -7 days, during which time it is turned manually every four hours to prevent matting of the roots, to regulate temperature and facilitate oxygen flow.
Kilning It is necessary to stop germination before the new shoot begins to appear so that starch is not consumed in the interests of the new plant. This is done by drying the "green malt" over a peat fired kiln. As a lightly peated whisky, Springbank malt is dried for six hours with peat, then a further 24 hours with hot air.
Longrow on the other hand is dried entirely over a peat fire for 48 hours resulting in a much more heavily peated malt. A third malt whisky, Hazelburn, is also produced at the distillery and for this no peat is used in the “kilning”.
Milling The malted barley is stored for around three weeks before being processed in batches called "mashes". These are passed through a dresser which removes dust and dirt, then through a traditional Porteous mill to be ground down to "grist".
Mashing Hot water is then added to the grist and the mixture filled into the mash tun for conversion of starch into sugars. The sweet liquid that drains through the grist, "wort", is subsequently cooled and transferred to washbacks to be fermented.
A total of four waters are added to the grist, each time at a higher temperature to ensure all the sugar is extracted. The last two waters have a much lower sugar content and they are used as the first two waters for the next mash. The remaining grist, now known as “draff”, is sold to local farmers for animal feed.
Fermentation There are six wooden washbacks at Springbank made of boat-skin larch, each with a capacity of 21,000 litres. It is here that yeast is added to the wort, which eventually ferments the sugars into alcohol.
The process takes at least two days, at the end of which time there is a beer-like liquid, known as "wash", with a strength between 4% and 5% ABV. This is now ready to be distilled.
Distillation At Springbank there are three copper pot-stills - one wash still and two spirit stills. The wash still is the only one in Scotland to be heated using both internal steam coils and a direct burner to the base of the still. To prevent any solids sticking to the still bottom, the wash still is fitted with a rummager, a revolving arm which drags copper chains around the bottom of the still, dislodging any solids contained in the wash which are likely to stick. In the process it is constantly exposing new copper which, it is thought, may contribute to the final flavour of the whisky.
Springbank, it is said, is distilled two and a half times whereas Longrow is double and Hazelburn triple distilled.
Maturation Before being filled into casks, the spirit is reduced in strength to 63% ABV, using water from Crosshill Loch, which is the source of water for the entire production process. A variety of oak casks are used to mature Springbank, including those that previously contained bourbon or sherry.
The maturation process is vital in determining the final character of the whisky, and has a major influence on its flavour. The spirit must be matured for three years before it can be called Scotch whisky - Springbank is matured for at least ten years.
Bottling As a comparatively small distillery with a limited production, Springbank carries out all its bottling on site in an old converted warehouse. The bottling process is not highly automated - instead the dozen or so workers take a very active role and their presence is vital at every stage.
Each bottle is inspected by hand allowing total quality control from start to finish. Unlike many other malts, Springbank is neither coloured nor chill filtered.
Springbank 15 year old single malt scotch whisky
Like a storm gathering off the Kintyre coast. Dark and ominous, yet tastes so good. The richness comes from the high percentage of sherry casks used in maturation. This is a truly classic Springbank, best enjoyed after dinner, or with your favourite cigar.
Colour: Dark Russet
Nose: Sherry, dark chocolate, christmas cake, almonds, toffee and oak.
Palate: Creamy, raisins, dark chocolate, figs, marzipan, brazil nuts and vanilla.
Finish: Oak and sherry notes sustain, mingling with hints of leather.