Glengyle distillery is producing spirit again and the first 12 year old ‘Kilkerran’ single malt is about to hit the market this year. In many ways, the distilleries story mirrors that of Campbeltown itself…
Glengyle was founded in 1872 by one William Mitchell – nephew of John Mitchell, founder of Springbank Distillery next door. William sold the distillery in 1919 but it didn’t survive for long under new ownership and was closed in 1925 during a particularly difficult period for the town.
Campbeltown, original name Kinlochkilkerran, was a fishing town primarily but had it’s own shipyard, a steamship service to Glasgow and good access to coal from a local mine, not to mention access to local barley and peat. In short, it had everything needed for a thriving whisky industry.
The Duke of Argyll saw the potential here and, following the 1823 Excise Act, he encouraged the legal production of whisky, even converting Crosshill Loch into a reservoir in order to provide a good water source. 29 distilleries opened between 1823 and 1844 and when Alfred Barnard visited in 1885 he dubbed it ‘Whisky City’.
The good times weren’t to last though. A number of factors contributed to a catastrophic collapse of this booming industry, with greed playing no small part. It seems that some distillers were more concerned with churning out quantity instead of quality and over time Campbeltown malts developed a poor reputation as a result. This, coupled with the rise in popularity of lighter, fruitier malts from Speyside, heralded tough times for the town’s whisky makers who struggled to find a market for their heavier, coastal malts.
To make matters worse, Campbeltown had enjoyed a booming trade with North America and when prohibition hit in 1920 it dealt a hammer blow to the whisky industry. Then came perhaps the final nail in the coffin. The closure of the local mine in 1923, brought unemployment to the town and removed the whisky industries fuel source.
There were as many as 35 operational distilleries within the town through the years but by 1935 only two remained… Springbank and Glen Scotia. As for Glengyle, it closed and lay dormant for many years. It suffered something of a false dawn in 1940 when a new owner came on the scene and failed to get it running again. Then finally, the distillery was acquired in the year 2000 by J & A Mitchell – owner of Springbank and descendants of John Mitchell, uncle to Glengyle’s founder, William. The distillery was renovated and two stills acquired from Ben Wyviss, reshaped and set to work. Production commenced in 2004 and 2016 will see the launch of their first 12 year old single malt.
The return of Glengyle, coupled with recent investment in Glen Scotia and the continuing success of Springbank, perhaps hint that better times lie ahead for Campbeltown and it’s whisky industry.
At the time of writing, the new 12 year old hadn’t hit the shelves yet but fortunately the owners have been releasing some limited expressions over the last few years in order to give us a taste of what to expect. The dram I have in front of me is Kilkerran ‘Work in Progress’ Volume 6. It’s been matured in European Oak Sherry Casks and bottled at 46% with no chill filtration.
The nose is instantly Sherry, with Raisins and Sultana’s. There’s Orange and Dark Chocolate and Smoke from a Coal Fire. There’s also a slight sulphur note – like burnt matches, not unpleasant though. On the palate meanwhile there’s Orange, Cranberry and Raisins with a coastal Brine note and Barbecue Smoke.
The Scores: About the Scoring…
Smell: 17 / 20. Nice marriage of sherry notes from the cask and coastal, briney notes from the spirit.
Taste: 18 / 20. Good mouth feel and I always enjoy the combination of dried fruits and subtle smoke.
Value for Money: 9 / 10. If I remember correctly, this went for around £40 – £45 a bottle, which is a perfectly reasonable price for a single malt, bottled at slightly higher strength without chill filtering.
Overall: 44 / 50. A more than decent dram in it’s own right but even more interesting given that it was a snap shot into how a new single malt was developing following the distilleries resurgence. It may not be available any more given it was a limited release, but we can all wait with great anticipation for the coming 12 year old.