Making memories over Campbeltown malts

Whisky fans fill the square at Springbank Distillery during its open day last Thursday. Photograph: Kenny Craig.
Whisky fans fill the square at Springbank Distillery during its open day last Thursday. Photograph: Kenny Craig.

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New friendships were made and old friendships strengthened during three days of merriment at last week’s Campbeltown Malts Festival.

The town was a hive of activity as single malt fans from around the world dropped in for a dram – or 10! – at the former whisky capital of the world’s three remaining distilleries: Glen Scotia, Springbank and Glengyle.

The usually annual festival, which celebrates Campbeltown and its rich whisky-making heritage, was last held in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic forced restrictions on events and travel.

And although various virtual tours and tastings were held in place of the festival over the last two years, the full-scale return brought a welcome boost to Kintyre.

The fun kicked off at Glen Scotia on Wednesday, where there were tours, tastings, demonstrations, stalls and a great selection of drams to satisfy all palates.

Having been named Scottish Distillery of the Year 2021, Glen Scotia decided to invite some special guests to attend this year; the distillery team was joined by legendary whisky writer Charles Maclean, drinks writer and presenter Becky Paskin, and Glen Scotia’s artist in residence Alice Angus.

‘It was fantastic to see Campbeltown so busy and back to its glorious best again,’ said Iain McAlister, Glen Scotia manager and master distiller.

‘It has been a few years, but the town always manages to put on some of the best whisky events in the calendar.

‘There is certainly a revived interest in Campbeltown and it has an incredible future when you consider the golden drop.’

The celebrations continued at Springbank on Thursday and Glengyle on Friday, where local shops and crafters sold their wares from stalls, while food providers served delicious dishes to keep people’s stomachs lined as tours and tastings took place.

The courtyard was packed at Glengyle Distillery's open day.
The courtyard was packed at Glengyle Distillery’s open day.

Some dedicated whisky fans even camped outside Springbank’s distillery shop from 11pm on Wednesday to ensure they got their hands on the special open day bottles of their choice.

At various points during all three open days, revellers were treated to musical performances courtesy of small groups from Kintyre Schools Pipe Band and Campbeltown Brass, showcasing the quality of music education in Campbeltown.

Among the stallholders throughout the festival were representatives of R&B Distillers and South Star Spirits, the companies behind the plans to build The Machrihanish Distillery and Dál Riata Distillery respectively.

Ranald Watson, director of sales and marketing at J&A Mitchell & Co Ltd, which operates Springbank and Glengyle distilleries, said: ‘We were absolutely delighted to be able to welcome visitors to the Campbeltown Malts Festival after a long three years.

‘While we were very pleased with the response to the online events we organised in the festival’s place, you can’t beat being able to welcome people to the distilleries in person.

‘It was great to see so many old friends coming back for the events and to meet some new ones too.

‘The work that goes on behind the scenes to organise events like these is enormous and it is to our staff’s great credit that it felt like we were able to slip into the old routine pretty quickly; the feedback from those in attendance has been hugely positive and it was great to hear them being equally complimentary about Campbeltown itself.

‘The whole town was busy for the entire week, hopefully bringing some much-needed and wanted income to the local economy.

‘The growth in the festival has been phenomenal over the years and while last week was the most successful one to date from our own perspective, the wider community benefits associated with the festival are as important as the impact on the distilleries themselves.

‘Whisky tourism should be seen as a real growth area for Campbeltown and Kintyre and, in that regard, it was nice to have representation at the festival from the two companies which are progressing their plans to build new distilleries in the area.

‘Additional voices shouting for Campbeltown will only help to bring more visitors to the area, hopefully expanding what is already a major part of the town’s tourism economy.’