An interview with Iain McAllister, the Glen Scotia Distillery Manager, on Campbeltown, one of the five recognised Scotch Whisky regions.
Do Campbeltown distilleries have a certain style of whisky? If so, what is it?
Campbeltown is the very epitome of the whisky industry in Scotland, with such a rich and unrivalled history that was the epicentre of the art of whisky making in the Victorian era. This provenance gave Campbeltown distinctive descriptors that imbued certain styles for the three remaining distilleries in Campbeltown, which all have maritime influences; Light Salt Brine, Subtle Oils and depending on the method of production delicate Smokey Influences. Glen Scotia Distillery benefits from all these characteristics but importantly also has a superbly balanced new make spirit that also encapsulate the following descriptors
Nose: Vivacious fresh fruit; lemon citrus, green apple peel and delicate melon initially, followed by sweet toasted malt with vanilla fudge.
Palate: Superbly balanced with layers of fruit, apple, ripe peach, with an intriguing grapefruit tang, whilst being intersected with light salty caramelised toffee and subtle maritime nuances.
Finish: Has a long salty buttery finish.
Descriptor: Encapsulates the descriptors of Glen Scotia, indeed Campbeltown the region – Maritime – brine, oil, with fruit, toffee, fudge and vanilla- fantastic!
How important is your region to the creation and marketing of Glen Scotia?
We are in the unique position of Glen Scotia Distillery being situated in this iconic region, with only three representatives left. It is a fantastic opportunity for Glen Scotia Distillery to demonstrate how Campbeltown and Glen Scotia still produces some of the world’s finest whiskies. This provides branding and marketing with a unique point of difference from so many other well publicised regions and brands.
Our production methods are communicated as “time honoured”, with so little having changed since our inception in 1832. Similarly we maintain a lot of the traditional methods that has made Glen Scotia distillery what it is today.
Importantly we are also the only Campbeltown Single Malt available at the Scotch Whisky Experience and are able to communicate to both national and international consumers on the merits of Glen Scotia and indeed Campbeltown whisky across the globe. We are conscious that we actively maintain our Campbeltown style of whisky production and that we have not lost our original style with the existing range and also new expressions due this year carrying on this tradition.
Why did so many Campbeltown distilleries close?
The land of whisky, whisky city, whisky metropolis are all descriptions used by Alfred Barnard for Campbeltown to show the extent of distilling in the town when he visited in 1885.
Why does this total now stands at three from a peak of twenty-eight, well the answer lies in a number of factors, each one compounding the problems the town faced, until most of the distilleries were no longer viable businesses.
There were different stages to the decline culminating with the 1920s as the nadir of centuries of distilling within the royal burgh. Firstly the blending trade that appeared on the scene in the 1850s, suddenly collapsed in the late 1890s, which catastrophically affected a number of the Campbeltown distilleries.
Secondly, by the turn of the century – 1900s, most of the original distillery owners had passed on, with second generation family members – Greenlees, Colville’s etc were giving up interest in distilling and moving away to the new opportunities in Glasgow, the second city of the empire.
Thirdly Campbeltown’s location had been ideal to meet the demand from the rapid growth in Glasgow’s population during the 1800s, with steam ships ploughing up and down the Clyde, this changed during the late 19th century due to the arrival of the railways in Speyside. It didn’t stop there; the Great War had a devastating effect with the Immature Spirits Act in 1915, which required whisky to be bonded for 2 then 3 years, in 1916. Similarly prohibition saw the best staging point for whisky being transported to the United States being curtailed between 1920 and 1933. So the reasons are wide, varied and culminated in the perfect storm for distilling in Campbeltown.
Note from Inside the Cask: for those interested in the history and want to delve further into it, check the book ‘The Distilleries of Campbeltown’ by David Stirk
I would argue that the region is back and continues to produce fantastically unique whiskies for global audiences, culminating in the fact that Campbeltown is one of the few areas that has no new distilleries built since the 19th century is testament to fact that we are a very hard act to follow!
Since there are not many Campbeltown distilleries still operating, does the label give you an interesting point of difference?
Definitely, consumers are interested and engaged in the different regions and are always looking for new expressions, whether it is by region or flavour and taste and we can offer them that, with our range in both domestic and imminent launching in global travel retail (artwork pictured below). Many retailers, bar and hotels differentiate their malts offering by region and with so few offerings from Campbeltown we have the opportunity to stand out as an interesting choice from the more mainstream regional offerings.
Do consumers recognise the ‘Campbeltown’ label?
Almost certainly yes, most consumers and customers know a little about Campbeltown and some of its rich distilling history, so we are only too pleased to have the opportunity and chance to help educate and inform consumers of the merits of a classic dram in the form of Glen Scotia, as well as offering a superb example of a Campbeltown whisky.
How important are the official regions more generally to the Scotch whisky industry?
The regions are becoming less differentiated as a result of more distilleries experimenting with production methods and cask finishes etc, so character is no longer limited to a region. However as a starting point to help consumers navigate round the impressive and unique whiskies that are available, is a great place to start. Campbeltown uniqueness and close knit connections ensure that the region – Campbeltown has more in common with a town than a region, due to geographical associations and close historical ties and connections with families and trade, but we will always produce Glen Scotia whisky in Campbeltown, our region.
Note from Inside the Cask: The Spirits Business magazine’s latest issue cover the topic of the Scotch whisky regions and how applicable they still are today on the article ‘Law of the land’ (pictured below).
Have they become relatively meaningless as distilleries become more experimental and do not stick within their traditional styles?
The regions are not meaningless, they demonstrate overall differentiation between styles out with these regions – you may produce different whiskies in a distillery, but the main descriptors are always going to be the same, as you will produce and mature that spirit within that region, in this case Campbeltown, so Glen Scotia whisky is always going to be initially from this region, which is very important to us.
Might they be seen as limiting to distillers? For instance, might an Islay distillery feel compelled to create peated whisky, since consumers associate the region with smoky drams?
Absolutely not. As mentioned, the region is the focal point and building on this is what will differentiate different distilleries within a region. As mentioned previously, this is easier within the Campbeltown region, which as the smallest, with the least number of distilleries and has demonstrated that with our current superb range of whiskies that coming from this distinct region that has allowed Glen Scotia Distillery to convey different styles, characters and finishes for just one distillery. It was not that long ago that we fought to have Campbeltown, the town, created into a region on its own right, so this is of critical importance to use this uniqueness to its full potential.
On a final note from Inside the Cask, I visited the town and Glen Scotia Distillery on my first week working for the company (picture below) and have written a post on this visit – please click here for 24 hours in Campbeltown.