The Glengyle Distillery was part of the historical glory of Campbeltown, when the city was the capital of whisky making in Scotland. At the time, 34 distilleries were operational in this rather small town, all working in close proximity to each other. In fact, different members of the Mitchell family had three distilleries next door to one another: Springbank, Riechlachan and Glengyle. William Mitchell opened the distillery in 1872 after falling out with his brother John over some aspect of the family’s farming business and had something to do with sheep.
In 1919, he sold it to the West Highland Malt Distilleries, which was a consortium of Campbeltown distilleries. The distillery was sold in the nick of time, as by 1925 they were all closed. Glen Scotia and Glengyle were bought in the 1940s by Bloch Bros, so f you ever wondered why Glengyle’s whisky is called Kilkerran and not Glengyle, this is the reason. The Glengyle trademark is actually owned by Glen Scotia, who has owned the brand since the 1940s and is used as the name of a Loch Lomond blend. So the name Kilkerran comes from the name of the original settlement upon which Capmbeltown was founded ‘Ceann Loch Cille Chiarain’. The distillery’s website also mentions that ‘Glen’ is more closely associated with the Highlands, but there were several Campbeltown distilleries with a Glen (Glen Scotia, Glenside, Glengyle and Glen Nevis). Heck, a solid majority of Campbeltown distilleries today use it 😉
The 1920s and 1930s were most unkind to Campbeltown. Changing tastes made the style of whisky fall out of favor with blenders, and of those 34 distilleries, only two remained. Today, we’re at three. The third, Glengyle, was opened in 2004 on the site of the original Glengyle distillery which was closed in the big Campbeltown bust years of the 1920s. The distillery is owned by the Mitchell family, owners of Springbank. While not actually part of the Springbank distillery, it’s not really an independent distillery, and has no employees of its own. Rather, Springbank employees shift their operations to Glengyle for six weeks a year (which is happening as this article is being written), the malt comes from the malting floors at Springbank (at the exact specifications of the Springbank malt), as do all the casks. Springbank makes three styles of whisky (lightly peated original style Springbank, the heavily peated Longrow, and the unpeated triple distilled Hazelburn), so why go through the expense of replicating a distillery next door, especially if the basic style will be the same as Springbank’s and the distillery is operating at less than 25% of full capacity in the first place? The answer is that the SWA planned to drop Campbeltown’s whisky region designation as there were only two distilleries in operation. Hence, plans were made to integrate it with the Highland region and be done with it. The Mitchell’s figured that if there were three distilleries in the region, it would be the same as the lowlands’ three distilleries forcing the SWA to either abolish two regions or leave Campbeltown alone. The plan worked, we got Kilkerran and the SWA was forced to keep the Campbeltown regional designation.
The equipment came from different parts of Scotland. The legendary Frank McHardy started his distillation career with Invergordon, where the closed Ben Wyvis distillery was operating. Those stills and spirit safe became available and Frank sourced them for Glengyle. He shortened the stills and raised the lyne arms, increasing the reflux dropping back into the stills. The Boby mill came from Craigellachie.
While I visited, a new washback was being installed, just in time for the 2016 operational run. The washback is made of larch:
If you want more about the founding, you can watch Frank himself share the story of the distillery:
Those of you with sharp eyes will have noticed that the barrel top has HP stenciled upon it. This is big news for fans, as the distillery is laying down heavily peated malt, in the style of Longrow. This is going to take some years to hit the market, but it is on the way. Expect interesting things coming out of the distillery, as I have a feeling that once a basic lineup is solidified, we’ll start seeing some experimentation happening with different casks.
This permanent expression – the Kilkerran 12 – is 70% ex bourbon casks and 30% ex sherry, and has everything you’d expect from a Campbeltown whisky à la Springbank. Dirty peat and gentle sherry will make you think of the Springbank 10, with the quality of the spirit sure to make this a permanent feature in many aficionado’s cabinets.
Kilkerran 12 Years Old (46% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Dark gold, slow and viscous legs with a long residual necklace.
Nose: Dirty Capmbeltown spirit, with honey and pine resin. Light peat in a thick nose. Hint of smoked balogna, and some citrus sourness, in a rather dry nose. There’s also a hint of saltiness on the nose, with a hint of lemon and distant cocoa powder. Some time in the glass brings out a basic maltiness.
Palate: Sweet attack, with a dry citrus peel bitterness, a fresh sweet honey and peat. Full mouth feel, it grabs your tongue and after a second on it plays waves of smoke, lemon and honey.
Linger: Peat and a lingering bitterness, in a long and warming finish. Some spice sits atop the gullet, and the whole mouth tingling.
This is a quality single malt, and a fitting base for a permanent core range. It would be interesting to do a head to head between it and the Springbank 10 year old…stay tuned for that one in the not too distant future!
A special thanks to Cameron McGeachy for this tour and the subsequent warehouse tasting. Slainte!