Founded officially in 1828 by Archibald Mitchell, Springbank was the 14th licensed distillery in Campbeltown. However, Springbank distillery sits on the site of Archibald Mitchell’s original illicit operations; the only remaining evidence of which is a local coppersmith’s ledger evidencing Mr Mitchell’s need for a kettle-shaped piece of copper prior to 1828.
Thankfully, for whisky enthusiasts, the Mitchell family have kept many of the old methods for distillation. Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland to carry out 100% of the production process on site (from malting, to warehousing and bottling). Springbank distillery is well worth the trip to Campbeltown, even if just to see how they did it back in the day.
A lightly peated, complex, full-bodied, maritime dram that is “not for novices”. A tasting of the Springbank 10yo is available as part of the standard Springbank tour.
First distilled in 1973, Longrow is the result of an experiment to prove that you can produce an Islay-style single malt on the mainland. Longrow Red is an annual small release bottled at cask strength. A different type of red wine cask is used each year to mature the whisky.
First distilled in 1997, using air-dried only (unpeated) malt and triple distilled. The Hazelburn 10-year-old is one of my favourite whiskies – it is super smooth and very drinkable!
Where is Springbank Distillery?
Springbank Distillery is at 85 Longrow, Campbeltown PA28 6EX, on the west coast of Scotland. Campbeltown is a 3-hour drive from Glasgow via the A83.
Citylink coaches run several services from Glasgow to Campbeltown daily. For timetables see http://www.travelinescotland.com
Springbank Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings
Springbank Tour: £10 per person, tours available Monday to Saturday at 10am, 11:30am, 1:30pm & 3pm. Duration approximately 60 min. Tour the distillery, including the malt floors, and enjoy a dram of one of the Springbank core whiskies afterwards, including a miniature bottle to take home.
Taste It: from £15 per person, available Monday to Saturday at 11:30am & 3pm. Duration is approximately 45 minutes. For those who prefer to simply relax and taste whisky under the tuition of an experienced guide; choose from a wide range of whiskies (from Springbank, Glengyle and Cadenhead) to sample. Does not include a distillery tour. Also available from Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop throughout each day are Whisky Flights consisting of 3 drams and starting from £5 per person - perfect for those with less time or just passing through.
Cadenhead Warehouse Tasting: £35 per person, available Monday to Saturday at 11:30am & 3pm. Duration is approximately 60 min. Sample a selection of the finest Cadenhead whiskies hand drawn from the cask in one of Springbank’s traditional warehouses. You can also take home a complimentary Cadenhead glass. Does not include a distillery tour.
Wee Toon (Town) Walking & Warehouse Tour: £85 per person, times vary, please contact Springbank Distillery for more information. Duration is approximately 4 hours. Enjoy a guided walk through Campbeltown, learning why it was once known as 'the whisky capital of the world', before touring the distilleries. You’ll be treated to a few whiskies which will be hand drawn from the cask in one of the warehouses, and you’ll enjoy a delicious Scottish platter for lunch in the Tasting Room. You’ll also receive a complimentary tasting glass and miniature bottle of whisky to take home from each distillery. This would be our pick of the tours as you get a guided exploration of two distilleries, and beautiful Campbeltown. Advanced bookings essential.
Barley to Bottle Tour: the Ultimate Springank Experience, £250 per person, available Monday to Friday at 10:30am, duration is approximately 4-5 hours. Experience the Springank whisky making process hands on with an access all areas tour where members of Springbank's knowledgable production team will guide you through each stage of the process, letting you test your skills at various stages. Aftewards you’ll get to sample a couple of drams drawn straight from the cask in one of the Springbank dunnage warehouses, then create your own personal 700ml Springbank blend to take home. Enjoy a Scottish platter for lunch in the Springbank Tasting Room, and take home a complimentary whisky glass and miniature bottles of Springbank and Glengyle. This tour is subject to Springbank's distillery production schedule and may not be possible at all times of the year. Advanced bookings essential.
Springbank Distillery Images
Springbank Distillery Process
The process begins with soaking barley grains in tanks or ‘steeps’ of cool, clean water from Crosshill Loch. The barley will stay in the water for up to three days to trigger germination – the grains will swell and produce the enzyme amylase, which is a vital part of the mash process later. Once removed from the steep, the barley layered six inches deep on the malting floors.
There are 2 malting floors at Springbank distillery, which hold ~10 tonnes of barley per floor. Six people form the production team, and during malting, 3 shifts run over 24 hours, with 2 people on each shift turning the malted barley at least twice per shift. The production team use malt shovels to turn the barley – they walk back and forth through the malt grains, aerating and redistributing them as they pass.
The malted barley sits on the floor for up to 4 days before it is drained from the malt floor onto the mesh drying floor in the kiln.
Very few distilleries still malt their own grains as the process is incredibly labor and space intensive. Springbank Distillery is the only distillery in Scotland to malt 100% of their grains on site.
The kiln temperature reaches around 45-60 deg c during kilning, and the different whiskies need different drying times and air compositions.
- Springbank: 6 hours of peat smoke, 30 hours of hot air.
- Longrow: up to 48 hours with peat smoke.
- Hazelburn: 30 hours of hot air (no peat!).
After kilning, Springbank store the malted barley in one of 10 grain silos. Each silo holds up to 22 tonnes of malted grain.
The malting/kilning process will continue for ~12 weeks. The milling and distillation process begins once all 10 silos are full.
Next up is the milling stage. Springbank’s 1940s Porteous mill crushes the dried malt into grist. The grist comprises 20% husks, 70% middles and 10% flour.
In another hark back to tradition, Springbank transfer the sugary wort to wooden (Swedish boatskin larch) washbacks, rather than more modern stainless steel.
There are 6 washbacks in total at Springbank, each able to hold roughly 21,000 litres. Yeast is added to the wort in the washbacks, and over a period of 72 to 110 hours, the yeast ferment the sugars in the wort.
This produces a liquid that resembles milky tea, and is closer to beer than whisky. At approximately 4-6% alcohol, the liquid in the washbacks is now ready for distillation.
The liquid from the washbacks passes through 2 (Longrow), 2.5 (Springbank) or 3 (Hazelburn) of Springbanks’s copper stills. Unlike many distilleries, Springbank heat the wash still (first still) externally by oil flame and internally by steam coils.
The low wines and feints produced in the wash still transfer into the low wines and feints receivers via a worm condenser.
Springbank whisky is distilled a total of two and a half times, meaning that the low wines from the first distillation are collected and re-distilled with the feints so that some of the spirit has been distilled twice and some three times.
- Springbank : 76%-60% alcohol
- Longrow: 69-58% alcohol
- Hazelburn: 79-63% alcohol
The middle cuts are then transferred to the spirit receiver for hand filling casks.
Cask Filling + Maturation
All 3 whiskies are casked at 63.5%. Malt will be converted into roughly 115,000 litres of whisky once distilled. Springbank’s maximum capacity (for all spirit) is 750,000 litres annually. Volumes produced will be in the order of 80% Springbank, 10% Longrow, 10% Hazelburn.
Each cask gets 3 fills for maturing whisky. ‘A’ casks are first fill, which will give the darkest finish to the whisky. B casks are on their second fill. C casks are on their third fill and will result in the lightest coloured whisky. Springbank is bottled at minimum 10 years maturation, using a blend of Springbank whisky, matured minimum 10 years in casks A to C.
There are 8 warehouses on site at Springbank distillery, 2 racked and 6 dunnage. Approximately 13,500 casks are maturing on site.
Springbank distillery do not chill-filter or artificially colour any of their whiskies.
What Else Is Nearby
Glengyle Distillery (Kilkerran Single Malt) – just along the road from Springbank, and part of the J&A Mitchell & Co. stable. Founded by Archibald Mitchell’s son William in 1872, it ceased distilling in 1925, and changed hands several times before returning to the Mitchell family holdings in 2000. The distillery reopened in 2004 after major restorations and a complete refurbishment.
Islay (drive or bus 926 to Kennacraig). If driving, ensure you’ve pre-booked your car via the Calmac website. If you are not taking a car on the ferry you do not need to (and cannot) pre-book tickets.
Isle of Arran Distillery via Claonaig-Lochranza Ferry (calmac.co.uk) – bus via 926 Campbeltown to Glasgow, connecting with the 448 Lochgilphead – Skipness (For timetables see http://www.travelinescotland.com
References & Further Reading
- Alfred Barnard, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, 2008 Edition, first published in 1887 by Harpers Weekly Gazette