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An Introduction to Scotch Whisky: The Campbeltown Region

Editor’s Note: This article kicks off a series of pieces we will have over the next few months focused upon the different major Scotch whisky regions. To date we have explored Speyside.

Once known as the “whisky capital of the world,” with as many as 28 distilleries running to capacity, Campbeltown is a whisky-producing region on the Kintyre Peninsula alongside Campbeltown Loch. Originally called Kinlochkilkerran (an Anglicization of the Gaelic term for “head of the loch by the kirk of Ciaran), its name was changed to Campbell’s Town when Archibald Campbell, the Earl of Argyle, was granted the site in 1667.

Its status as one of five officially recognized Scotch-manufacturing regions was revoked as its distilleries slowly withered away. By 2010, only two were left—Springbank and Glen Scotia.

Its lost status was returned when a third, Glengyle, owned by J & A Mitchell & Co, announced it was starting up a new distillery. Its first release was in 2014. The whisky will be sold under the name Kilkerran, since a Highland blended malt named Glengyle is already on the market.

The Mitchells selected the name because Kilkerran is derived from the Gaelic “Ceann Loch Cille Chiarain,” the name of the original location where Saint Kieran (Ciaran of Clonmacnoise), one of the twelve “apostles of Ireland,” once lived in the exact area where the town of Campbeltown now stands.

Campbeltown does not have a distinctive regional style, although this may change if more distilleries begin operating there. The use of peat varies by distillery, as does the practice of “finishing” malt in casks that previously held other liquids. Stylistically, its distilleries feature elements typical of both the Lowland and Islay distilleries. In addition, Springbank uses an unusual two-and-a-half times distillation process, a combination of double and triple distillation, which creates its signature style. The distillery’s water source is Loch Crosshill. It uses two wash and two spirit stills, and produces about 600,000 gallons of spirit per year.


Of the three brands distilled at the Springbank distillery (Hazelburn, Springbank, and Longrow), Longrow is the peatier version. In fact, all of the barley that goes into Longrow is dried using a peat-fired furnace. It is double distilled, as opposed to Springbank. In addition to its regular bottling, Longrow also has a version finished in Barolo barrels from famed Piedmontese winemaker Gaja, and one that has a Tokaji finish. Tokaji is a sweet dessert wine made from grapes affected with noble rot, Botrytis cineraria, which is produced in Hungary’s Tokaji region, an area that has long been known for its sweet dessert wines.

Scotch whisky aging at Springbank (image via Springbank)

The Springbank 35 YO 1971/2007 (59% ABV, the Whisky Fair, Sherry Cask, 239 bottles) is the classic expression of the Springbank house style. Its richness comes from the rather high percentage of sherry casks used in maturation. This is a truly classic Springbank featuring the signature complexity that Springbank is known for. On the nose there is a dazzlingly complex array of aromas: dark chocolate, sweet marzipan, nuts, figs, dried fruit, and vanilla.

On the palate there is the distinctive dried fruit sweetness and heavy textured mouth feel associated with sherry cask maturation. The finish is long complex and features the classic interaction of smoke and dried fruit sweetness typical of sherry cask matured, peated whiskies.

While Springbank has a portfolio of 17 expressions on offer, all of which are expensive to very expensive, Longrow has seven and Hazelburn just two. Longrow 7 YO 2000/2008 (55.8% ABV, OB, Gaja Barolo finish, 12120 bottles) is a powerful whisky with a complex nose. It shows some subtle peat with faint meaty notes and is much more powerful than other Longrows. It has excellent mouth feel and is probably the peatiest of all the Longrows. Remember, this whisky is just seven years old, a good five years younger than many competitors. Longrow’s 16 YO 1974 (46%, OB, bottled +/- 1990) shows much more smoothness, with salty, orangey, spicy notes, and with an excellent pepperiness on the finish.

Hazelburn is a fully triple distilled light whisky that features a nose of dried fruit, citrus peel, sweet caramel, and nuts. On the palate it offers mocha and coffee notes framed by a gentle, spicy, peat. The finish is long with notes of coffee, chocolate, citrus, and a bit of tropical spice.

Glen Scotia

The Glen Scotia distillery dates back to 1832, four years after the founding of Springbank, and has a storied pedigree. It has been in continuous operation for 184 years. The distillery was purchased by the Loch Lomond Group in 2014 and has undergone extensive renovation. The current production is around 125,000 gallons of alcohol, but this is expected to increase as new distilling capacity is brought into operation.

The distillery offers three core single malt expressions: a 15 YO (46% ABV), a Double Cask (46% ABV) offering, and the Victoriana (51.5% ABV).

The Double Cask expression features malt that has been finished in a combination of first fill bourbon barrels and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. The resulting malt whisky features a distinctive fruit profile with green and stone fruit notes and in particular apples and peaches, followed by vanilla and wood spice from the first fill bourbon barrels and the chewy, caramel, heavy, oily texture from the sweet sherry cask finishing. There are also elements of char, a hint of tangy marine brine, and even touches of herbaceous notes on the finish.

The Victoriana expression, on the other hand, is an attempt to craft a Scotch whisky typical of the style of Victorian Britain. Bottled at cask strength ABV, typical of the period, it features elements of dried fruit and candied citrus peel, with hints of chocolate and sugared toast.

The Glen Scotia 16 YO bottling, on the other hand, is more reminiscent of a Lowland malt. It features a distinct sweet note with aromas of citrus, honey, and oatmeal. On the palate there is dried stone fruit, especially apricot, and candied lemon zest, followed by a creamy oily texture and hints of sea spray, biscuit, and baking spices.

The house style of Kilkerran is, in many ways, reminiscent of Glen Scotia, but without the viscous, oily texture that characterizes the later. On the nose there is honey sweetness with a pronounced citrus note of bitter orange zest as well as aromas of baked/cooked apple and baking spice, especially cinnamon.

The palate features a creamy, custard texture, with elements of orange marmalade, caramel notes, vanilla, cinnamon, and other baking spices. The finish features a distinctive sweet note with slight hints of molasses-like sweetness and tropical spices. Kilkerran offers a range of exotic cask finishes, from various types of sherry to Calvados, which further complement the house style and add a range of additional aromas and flavors.

Joe Micallef

Joseph V. Micallef is a historian, best-selling author, keynote speaker and commentator on wine and spirits. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and has also appeared on a variety of broadcast venues including, CNN, Fox News and Fox News Radio.
He has frequently spoken on the history of food, wine and spirits. He holds the Diploma in Wine and Spirits and the Professional Certificate in Spirits (with Distinction) from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (London). He is a certified wine judge for the California State Fair Wine Competition and also a judge for the International Wines and Spirits Competition (IWSC)

Among his recent books are), Scotch Whisky: Its History, Production and Appreciation (2015). A new book, The Whisky Isles, is forthcoming.

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