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The Glengyle distillery in Campbeltown is once again producing single malt whisky, with the first-ever 12-year-old Kilkerran due to be unveiled later this year.
Glengyle was founded in 1872 by William Mitchell, nephew to Archibald Mitchell, of Springbank Distillery. William eventually sold the distillery in 1919 but unfortunately, it didn’t survive for very long under new ownership and finally closed down in 1925 during a massive downturn in the once-thriving Campbeltown whisky industry.
Originally named Kinlochkilkerran, Campbeltown was a fishing town with its own shipyard and a regular steamship service to Glasgow. This, coupled with a local coal mine and plentiful supply of barley and peat combined to create conditions ripe for whisky-making. The Duke of Argyll saw that potential and encouraged the legal production of whisky, following the Excise Act of 1823. He even commanded that Crosshill Loch be converted into a reservoir in order to provide an adequate water source. 29 distilleries opened between 1823 and 1844. When Alfred Barnard visited in 1885 he dubbed the town Whisky City.
The good times weren’t to last, however, and a number of contributing factors combined to bring about a catastrophic collapse of this once booming industry, with greed playing no small part. Some distillers, more concerned with producing quantity rather than quality, earned Campbeltown an unwanted reputation for rough spirits. With the rising popularity of lighter, Speyside malts, the towns distillers found it harder and harder to market their heavier, coastal whiskies.
Following the introduction in 1920 of prohibition in the US, the towns booming trade with North America shuddered to a halt and Campbeltown’s whisky industry fell to its knees. When the local coal mine closed in 1923, dramatically increasing fuel costs, it began to collapse completely. There were around 35 operational distilleries within the town at one time but by 1935 only two remained, Springbank and Glen Scotia.
Glengyle itself ceased production and lay dormant for decades until the distillery was bought by Springbank owners J & A Mitchell in 2000. After a complete renovation, pot stills were sourced from the old Ben Wyvis distillery in Invergordon and production of a new Glengyle malt began in 2004.
This rebirth of Glengyle, coupled with recent investment in Glen Scotia and the continuing success of Springbank, suggests that there is life yet in this once proud whisky city.
Since the rights to the Glengyle name are unfortunately held elsewhere, J & A Mitchell will release their new single malt under the name of Kilkerran. As the spirit matures, the company have been releasing annual Work-in-Progress expressions, giving eager connoisseurs a sneak peek at the future of the new malt. Bottled at 46% and matured in European Oak Sherry Casks, Kilkerran Work in Progress Volume 6 is available in the UK for around £45.
Smell: Sherry on the nose with Raisins and Sultana, Orange and Dark Chocolate with Smoke and a slight touch of Struck Matches
Taste: Orange, Cranberry and Raisins with coastal Brine and Barbecue Smoke.
Thoughts: The malt is young and a wee bit feisty but you can see its quality. The sherry is bold and even though it doesn’t quite sit in perfect harmony with the spirit as yet, you get the sense that it’s on the way to being something rather special. Watch out for sherry matured Kilkerran in future.
A fascinating glimpse at the development of a brand new single malt that leaves me waiting impatiently for the arrival, later this year, of the first 12-year-old.