One of Scotland’s most remote mainland towns, Campbeltown also used to be know as “the Whisky Capital of the World”.

This is because Campbeltown used to be a hotbed of illicit distillation, since the end of the 18th century. It took the 1823 Excise Act to turn an illegal whisky boom into a legal one.

According to the author Angus Martin and his research published in his recent book, the most distilleries operating at any one time in Campbeltown legally (i.e. licensed) were 22. However, the list of Scotch whisky distilleries that have operated in Campbeltown since 1815, is over 30, even though only 3 of them are active today: Glengyle, Glen Scotia and Springbank.

source: Springbank

The whisky industry in the coastal town of Campbeltown was largely driven not by native families from the area but rather by descendants of Lowland families which came to South Kintyre in the 17th century at the encouragement of the Campbells of Argyll, as Angus Martin reveals in his book ‘Campbeltown Whisky – An Encyclopaedia’. The three most prominent families were Greenlees, Colvill(e) and Mitchell, with the Greenlees deemed to have been the most successful.

source: Glen Scotia

Campbeltown’s boom in whisky production was due in part to steam navigation as this allowed whisky to be shipped directly to Glasgow in just 9 hours. By 1891, Campbeltown, with a population of just 1,969 was reputed to be the richest town in Britain per capita.

“Campbeltown is certainly a most attractive place and we were charmed with is appearance. It is situated at the head of a beautiful bay, which is almost land locked and engirt by heath covered hills” Alfred Barnard

source: Springbank

There are still many stories around the town from the days gone past and of the people involved in the scotch whisky business, such as Duncan MacCallum, who drowned himself in Crosshill Loch in 1930 and who was wealthy enough to be considered a multi-millionaire by today’s rates. The mystery behind his apparent suicide remains, as well as the stories of MacCallum haunting the Glen Scotia Distillery to this day.

Back in 1891, MacCallum was head of the consortium Stewart, Galbriath & Co that by 1905 held controlling interests in Benromach, Glen Albyn and Glen Dronach distilleries. He was also involved in building Glen Nevis Distillery back in 1877. The group purchased Glenside Distillery in 1908 and set up West Highland Malt Distilleries Ltd in 1919 to run (Glen) Scotia, Glen Nevis, Glengyle, Kinloch, Dalintober and Ardlussa distilleries, until the group’s bankruptcy in 1924.

In chronological order from the date of opening, below is a list of all of the Campbeltown distilleries that have operated under license. Interestingly, in 1815, there was only one legal distillery operating in Campbeltown, but only nine years later, there were already several others erected and in place.

  • 1815 – Campbeltown Distillery
    • the earliest of the distilleries established after a hiatus of 20 years in the legal trade, by the firm John Beith & Co.
    • annual output: 60,000 gallons
  • 1823 – Caledonian Distillery
    • built on the opposite side of Big Kiln in 1823 by Peter Stewart & Co
  • 1824 – Kinloch Distillery
    • built for Lamb, Colvill(e) & Co
    • annual output: 97,000 gallons
  • 1824 – Lochhead Distillery
    • built for A & R McMurchy & Co
    • the distillery name is an anglicised form of ceann loch or ‘head of the loch’ as Campbeltown is known in Gaelic
    • annual output: 111,000 gallons
  • 1824 – Longrow Distillery
    • originally owned by Colville, Beith & Co.
    • Longrow closed in 1896 and the surviving buildings were purchased by J & A Mitchell & Co Ltd in 1971. One building is used as a warehouse and the other as a bottling plant for Springbank, who also released a heavily peated product under the name ‘Longrow’
    • annual output: 40,000 gallons
  • 1824 – Meadowburn Distillery
    • built by Kirkwood, Taylor & Co., which included Matthew Greenlees who was later connected with Hazelburn Distillery
    • the distillery is not included in Barnard’s book and it must have been closed prior to his visit in 1885
  • 1825 – Burnside Distillery
    • built near the stream called ‘Witchburn’, this distillery was remote from the town, half a mile away on the road to Machrihanish (the golf course on the shores of the Atlantic)
    • annual output: 96,000 gallons
source: National Library of Scotland
  • 1825 – Dalaruan Distillery
    • built on the site of a brewery erected c. 1770 for Orr, Ballantine & Co
    • annual output: 112,000 gallons
  • 1825 – Hazelburn Distillery
    • Daniel Greenlees, who was also involved at Dalaruan Distillery, was involved in this project as part of Greenlees & Colvill
    • Its capacity was considerably enlarged in 1863, and it exceeded all of the other Campbeltown distilleries
    • the pioneer of Japanese whisky, Taketsuru Masataka (pictured below), and his Scottish wife Rita arrived in Cambpeltown in May 1920 to conclude his voluntary apprenticeship at Hazelburn
    • annual output: 192,000 gallons but capacity of up to 250,000 gallons
source: smws
  • 1825 – Rieclachan Distillery
    • built at the head of Longrow for Wyllie, Mitchell & Co
    • annual output: 70,000 gallons
  • 1826 – Union Distillery
    • built by John Mactaggart who had also been involved with Campbeltown Distillery, and who passed away in 1832
    • ceased production in 1850
  • 1827 – Highland Distillery
    • built in Broad Street, Dalaruan for Daniel MacTaggart & Co
  • 1827 – MacKinnon’s Distillery
    • also known as Argyll Distillery and located at the Big Kiln in Lorne Street, it was closed by 1844
  • pre-1828 (date started unknown) – Glenramskill Distillery
    • the distillery seems to have operated until 1854 and was located to the south of the town
  • 1828 – Springbank Distillery
    • Alfred Barnard in his book gave 1828 as the year that the distillery was built, however there are also suggestions that this may have happened later according to Angus Martin, by the founding firm William Reid Jr & Co, which in 1837 was sold to brothers John and William Mitchell, operating as J & W Mitchell
    • Due to disagreements, they eventually parted company in 1872 and Springbank was bought by John Mitchell who took his son Archibald into the business under J & A Mitchell
    • Meanwhile his brother William Mitchell was involved after the split in building Glengyle Distillery
    • annual output: 145,000 gallons
  • 1830 – Kintyre Distillery
    • built a few years after Longrow Distillery also for John Ross & Co
    • annual output: 67,000 gallons
  • 1830 – Lochside Distillery
    • one of the shortest lived distilleries in Campbeltown with a span of less than 25 years
  • 1830 – Springside Distillery
    • the distillery traded as John Colvill & Co and was the smallest of all distilleries visited by Alfred Barnard in 1885
    • annual output: 30,000 gallons
  • 1830 – West Highland Distillery
    • founding partners were Andrew & Montgomery
    • rumoured to have gone out of business between 1852 and 1860
  • 1832 – Dalintober Distillery
    • founded by Reid & Colville, including David Colville who was also involved in Dalaruan Distillery
    • Dalintober signifies the valley of wells
    • annual output: 120,000 gallons
  • 1832 – Meadowbank Distillery
    • the original firm behind it was Peter Stewart & Co.
source: Glen Scotia
  • 1832 – (Glen) Scotia Distillery
    • the oldest surviving distillery in Campbeltown (according to author Angus Martin) and founded as plain ‘Scotia’ Distillery by Stewart, Galbraith & Co
    • the name was changed to ‘Glen Scotia’ in 1935 under the then ownership of Bloch Brothers Ltd
    • annual output: 85,000 gallons
  • 1833 – Broombrae Distillery
    • built in 1833 but little known about the distillery which seems to have existed only for a short period of time
  • 1833 – Lochruan Distillery
    • built for Johnstons & Co, the term ‘lochruan’ means the red loch, rua being the Gaelic word for red
    • annual output: 85,000 gallons
source: National Library of Scotland
  • 1834 – Drumore Distillery
    • used to stand in Drumore Farm and closed in 1847
    • built for Templeton, Fulton & Co and there are a few Mitchell family links to some of the founding partners from Drumore
  • 1834 – Mossfield Distillery
    • built in either 1834 or 1835 and situated in the Kirk Close, Longrow
    • distillery name suggests that it was built on a boggy field or ‘bank of moss’ (i.e. peat)
  • 1834 – Thistle Distillery or Mountain Dew Distillery
    • originally named Thistle Distillery until new owners changed the name to Mountain Dew Distillery in December 1834
    • ‘Mountain dew’ (or ‘moonshine’) was a colloquial name for whisky
  • 1834 – Toberanrigh Distillery
    • built by Alexander Wylie at 48 Longrow and existed for less than 30 years
  • 1835 – Glenside Distillery
    • established by David Anderson & Co
    • Glenside was the first Campbeltown whisky to advertise in a local newspaper in 1921
    • annual output: 70,000 gallons
  • 1837 – Albyn Distillery
    • built by William McKersie next to the town gas works at the Roading
    • annual output: 85,000 gallons
  • 1844 – Argyll Distillery
    • its 2nd manifestation was built in 1844 for Robert Colvill, Hugh Greenlees and Robert Greenlees Jr
    • neighbouring Hazelburn Distillery
    • annual output: 40,000 gallons
  • 1868 – Benmore Distillery
    • one of just two distilleries not built by local investors, the other being Ardlussa in 1879
    • annual output: 125,000 gallons
  • 1872 – Glengyle Distillery
    • founded by William Mitchell a year after he parted company with his brother John at Springbank, building completed in 1873
    • the distillery was sold off in 1924 and only returned back under the Mitchell family fold in 2000, with whisky being produced in 2004 and eventually released under the ‘Kilkerran’ brand name
    • one of the reasons for this is because the trade name ‘Glengyle’ is under the ownership of Loch Lomond Group, the current owners of Glen Scotia Distillery. In 1940, the Bloch Brothers purchased Glengyle Distillery and the ownership passed through a succession of companies over the years, however the trade name remains owned
    • annual output: 90,000 gallons
  • 1877 – Glen Nevis Distillery
    • built on land acquired from Gallowhill farm and owned by D. MacCallum & Co
    • annual output: 100,000 gallons
Glen Nevis filling store in 1922 source:
  • 1879 – Ardlussa Distillery
    • built for James Ferguson & Sons, owners of Craighouse Distillery, Jura
    • Last distillery built in Campbeltown and at the time, the 22nd operational distillery with neighbouring Glen Nevis Distillery, built 2 years earlier
    • annual output: 118,000 gallons

Other possible distillery from Campbeltown: Ballegreggan


Note that all of the annual output figures – where available – have been sourced from the Alfred Barnard book published in 1887 and referenced on this list below. All of the output figures were quoted using gallons of whisky produced and if the British Imperial Gallon was the equivalent to approximately 4.54 litres, then we can work out the capacity at the time. Therefore, one should be able to assume that the production in Campbeltown distilleries around 1885 was between 30,000 gallons at Springside Distillery and 192,000 gallons (capacity up to 250,000) at Hazelburn Distillery. Therefore, between 136,000 to 872,000 litres (capacity up to 1.135 million litres of alcohol). This is much lower than the average single malt distillery in Scotland today, at an average of around 2.5 million litres produced annually.

source: google

For those visiting Campbeltown, you can even use Google search and then map function to identify the ‘lost distilleries’ – just google “campbeltown lost distilleries” and then open the map function (see picture above). I have not checked the accuracy but it seems to include: Springside, Kintyre, Highland, Longrow, Argyll, MacKinnon, Albyn, Hazelburn, Burnside, Ardlussa, Broombrae, Drumore, Lochhead, Kinloch, Benmore, Glen Nevis, Glenside distilleries.

source: google

Please find the links below for further reference on Campbeltown – all of these were used for the information provided on this blog post:


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