#14 A taste of Campbeltown

Dramming Around moves to Scotland

Our first whisky trip in Scotland: couldn’t have been anywhere else! 

(For a more in depth Campbeltown experience go here: Cadenhead’s Warehouse tasting, Kintyre Gin and Watt Whisky tastings, Springbank/Glengyle visits and Glen Scotia tasting)

September 2018, still the beginning of our life in Scotland: Gianluigi had moved about a year earlier, Teresa not even 4 months. We were coming out our first Fringe as Edinburghers (although someone would use another term), festival that we appreciated but despised at the same time, as the city can become very hard to live in August.

We wanted to have a weekend break somewhere, but for a few weeks we were stuck exploring options, undecided. Then a thought crossed our minds: why don’t we go to that place…the one that is a whisky region by itself…what’s its name…Campbeltown!

As we used to do for our weekends away back in Illinois, we rented a car, and booked a random accommodation on Booking.com (at the time we were not aware of the Ardshiel Hotel), and the holiday was set! The program was very easy: travelling on Friday, Saturday in Campbeltown, and on Sunday we’d visit Oban and travel back to Edinburgh. We had no idea what was expecting us! At the time we hadn’t visited any distillery in Scotland…together: Gianluigi had visited Glengoyne as a side event of a conference he had attended a couple of months before in Glasgow. Unfortunately, the experience was far from great: too many people and one tiny dram.

So, when the day came, Teresa went to work in Glasgow as usual, while Gianluigi picked up the rental car and picked her up for lunch. We followed Teresa’s colleagues suggestions and drove westward instead of north. So, we crossed the sea on ferries twice: first from Gourock to Dunoon, and after crossing the Argyll, from Portavadie to Tarbert, to finally drive down the Kintyre peninsula.

On our way to Campbeltown.

Even if this is not the most popular part of the West Coast, we found most landscapes truly beautiful, and particularly peaceful. We arrived at our hotel quite late, and Gianluigi had to finish off a bit of work. We hadn’t realised how early restaurants were closing in Campbeltown, so we almost missed dinner time. Fortunately, a nearby restaurant allowed us in, at the condition we ordered quickly, which we did, as we were super-hungry (unfortunately, when we were back in 2021 we saw that it’s closed). The night ended with a pint at the hotel’s bar.

After a generous breakfast, we left the hotel to check out Campbeltown. The day wasn’t great (overcast but not rainy), and we just walked around. Someone would describe the town as a bit run down, but to us the atmosphere was relaxing and cosy, almost intimate and melancholic, one that you can only find in far-away villages like this.

That tower bell looks familiar…

The first appointment of the morning was at Glen Scotia Distillery, but when we arrived, everything was closed. We waited a bit puzzled, checking emails and times meanwhile. Suddenly, a man came out of the production gate, asking if one of us was Gianluigi. He was one of the distillers, Archie, who told us that the designed guide was sick and couldn’t give us the tour. However, if that was OK with us, Archie would be the guide for the two of us, although sometimes he would have needed to go check the stills. Moreover, the tour was free as an apology for the inconvenient. We couldn’t believe our ears, of course it was OK with us!!! The tour was really in depth, and the fact that a distiller was our guide made it really invaluable. Even the tasting was very generous: a wee taste of the new-make spirit, then the Double Cask, the 15y, the Campbeltown Festival 2018 (finished in Ruby Port casks), and the Victoriana. Unfortunately, the shop was closed as well (the sick tour guide was running the shop too), so we bought something later at Cadenhead’s.

The beauty of Glen Scotia still room.

After the tour, we had a quick but tasty bite at Café Bluebell, and we then proceeded to the afternoon activity: the Cadenhead’s Warehouse Tasting. At the time we weren’t as nerdy as we are today, so we decided to skip the Springbank or Glengyle distillery tours in favour of a tasting: we weren’t even aware of all the frenzy around Springbank yet. Moreover, at first, the concept of an independent bottler was not the easiest to grasp: why should a distillery sell its product to an intermediary? Now it is so obvious, and we are grateful for that: the variety of whisky that some independent bottlers can offer is truly astonishing, and without them we wouldn’t be able to get our Miltonduff’s, Glen Elgin’s, Glentauchers’, Glen Spey’s, Mannochmore’s, and all the other ones that are rarely bottled by their owners.

A relaxing landscape…

As a matter of fact, it didn’t take long to appreciate the great work that Cadenhead’s do. In the warehouse, a sizeable line-up of casks was waiting for us. We don’t remember much, but in the bunch there were a Strathclyde grain (there are pictures), a Longrow 11y, a Paul John, definitely a speysider, someone said a Lagavulin (probably a Caol Ila) and a 10y rum from Darsa distillery, in Guatemala. We ended up taking the rum and the Longrow, but all the drams were truly delicious. Not surprisingly, we’re in the Cadenhead’s club now!

Old and new delicious stuff!

At the end of the tasting we were kind of tipsy (ehm…), so we decided to leave the bottles at the hotel and have dinner in the most far-away restaurant we could reach walking, on the other side of the harbour (which is now closed too…are we bringing bad luck??). We went back to the hotel, not before having an extra dram, the last one in Campbeltown…for now.

The Sunday morning was again overcast turning to rain, so we checked out and started driving south, towards the Mull of Kintyre (“Oh mist rolling in from the sea, my desire is always to be here”…), to finish our exploration of the peninsula.

Slightly better weather on the way from Campbeltown to Oban!

Then we drove north, towards Oban, the last stop in our trip. Although the sun came out while driving, it started pouring rain as soon as we parked in Oban (experiencing the 4-season in day). Oban is a nice village but looked a bit too touristy for us (and indeed we haven’t been back yet, unlike Campbeltown). The tour at the distillery was nice but a bit dull, probably it suffered in comparison to the previous day experiences. Still, it was interesting to see how this distillery, unlike many others, is nestled in the village, with no space for potential expansions. At the end of the tour we were given a dram of the flagship, the Oban 14y, and one of the Oban Little Bay. We ended up not buying anything, as even then we were aware that distillery prices sometimes are not competitive. We would have bought a bottle a few months later.

Oban right in the middle of the flavour map.

As a baptism into scotch distillery visiting, we couldn’t ask for more: a magic place, and magic whisky. With the pandemic and all we weren’t able to go back to Campbeltown for a while, so when we managed to do it in 2021, it was a very welcome return, with more whisky knowledge and experience in the pocket! Now it’s time to plan our third trip… 2023?


Glen Scotia Distillery: https://www.glenscotia.com/
Cadenhead’s: https://experience.cadenhead.scot/
Oban Distillery: https://www.malts.com/en-gb/distilleries/oban

#3.3 Campbeltown Loch, I wish you were whisky!

How things are done!
(Day 3 & 4)


A day at Springbank and Glengyle distilleries, plus a Glen Scotia tasting. 

(missed Day 2 or Day 1?)

And finally it’s the Springbank-Glengyle day! During our first trip here, back in 2018, we only visited Glen Scotia and opted for the Cadenhead’s Warehouse tour instead of the Mitchell’s company distilleries…what did we miss! Fortunately, the folks at Springbank were nice enough to offer us a tour on a Saturday, which is normally closed (many thanks to Mary for that), and a tasting at their newly build Washback (spoiler: the bar is made of an actual wooden washback!).

Dry peat and wet peat!

Since we were the only group, we could tour the distilleries all together. First off, Springbank. We started off with the malting facility, which they still do 100% on their own (and we realised how this is the bottleneck of their production size, but also their strength). There was barley drying on the malting floor, one of the first times we actually saw this stage of the process happening live. Of course, it is all done like in the old times, and as a testimony of this there was also a hi-fi system (go 90s!) to keep the workers company.

The Springbank mashtun.

Moving outside, another thing new to us: a pile of dry peat and one of wet peat. The knowledgeable Mary told us that they are used in a slightly different way depending on the product they are producing. The kiln is run for 30h with hot air when they are producing the unpeated Hazelburn (10% of their production), for 6h with peat and 30h with hot air for Springbank (80% of their production), and up to 48h with peat smoke for the (quite heavily) peated Longrow (another 10% of the production).

In case you need a recap about distillation.

Moving to the next production stages, the mashtuns, (actual) washbacks and stills, we could again see how hands-on are all the processes here: no computers, everything very manual. In a world moving too fast, it is comforting to find a place where time seems to slow down, and where people definitely take their time to do things. And rightly so, since their bottlings normally fly off the shelves like pigeons after a gunshot. Next up, the warehouse, which is of course the best smelling place of the distillery, as always…eheh.


Glengyle brought us back to slightly more modern times. Opened in 2004, one of the reasons being to circumvent a rule of the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) which wouldn’t allow to call an area a whisky region with only 2 distilleries. The stills came from the defunct Ben Wyvis distillery, dismantled in 1977. The distillery looked more “conventional”, although still way less automated than many distilleries we visited, which looked like they could be run by computers…maybe in a dystopian future that will happen and the machines will take control on humanity by poisoning the booze! Don’t worry, we are not becoming sci-fi writers, and going back to Glengyle distillery we could spot the window which inspired the Kilkerran Single Malt logo: a selfie was a must!

Glengyle, or the second distillery tour in less than two hours.

At the Washback bar we picked a Hazelburn and a Longrow flights, since they included drams we were not very familiar with. Both awesome, in particular the former: the Hazelburn Cognac SC knocked our socks off! And among the latter, the (at the time) just released Longrow 18 was outstanding.

The smile only a flight of Hazelburns can give you!

After a few extra drams, the party moved to another bar, were we took turns wearing a “90s Meg Ryan” wig…We’ll spare you the pictures! We had dinner at Number 42 – great food quality (probably one of the best fish&chips tried so far), although not ideal combination of small portions and high prices. The night still ended on a high after a few drams at the Ardshiel.

On the last day we had a free morning. Many (including Teresa after a run and a shower) joined Justine in a lost distilleries’ hunt – Benmore, Argyll and so many others! Meanwhile, in preparation for the upcoming half marathon, Gianluigi went for a 24k run on the hills around the town. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t too bad, so he could actually take some (far from decent) pictures!

A bench overlooking Campbeltown.

In the afternoon we attended the last event of the trip, a Glen Scotia tasting with Ian MacAlister at the Ardshiel Hotel. We started with the 10y, a very new bottling destined to grocery stores. This is why it is bottled at a 40% abv, like their other NAS supermarket release, the Campbeltown Harbour. Similar to this, and in spite of the 40%, it is a quite drinkable sweet dram, very well engineered for a broader audience. The other three drams – Warehouseman’s Edition (2005 recharred American oak finished in first fill oloroso, 56.2%), Single Cask Shop Bottling (2013 highly peated 1st fill bourbon, 61.4%) and Master Distillers Edition (2002 refill American oak hothead, 57.3%) – were all outstanding, with the Single Cask Shop Bottling being the one we liked the most. At this point, Ian surprised us with two more drams. The first one was a 2002 single-cask refill PX, which he (and us) loved – too bad there isn’t enough for a bottling, it was quite unique! The second was their new festive bottling, a 12y cask strength which has spent some time in heavily charred and oloroso casks, frankly delicious!

Last but not least: the Glen Scotia tasting!

We were all quite happy (well…you know), and the party naturally moved to the Ardshiel bar, with Ian staying with us for a couple of pints and many chats. Dinner was booked there as well: delicious and again great service, strongly suggested! Back to the bar, our friend Cath started playing the guitar and singing. At some point Gianluigi was invited to play the guitar, but it was not a great success since Tool and Mastodon songs are not quite as sing-along songs as he would think, who knew! He somehow managed to remember Don’t look back in anger and Everlong to accompany Cath solid effort, before passing the guitar back to her. Probably because of the many drams, we went to bed quite early, although it felt like 1am!

The day after was smooth, returning back to Edinburgh with only a quick stop at Fyne Ales to grab a few of their sour beers, with anything notable happening. As a first group trip, we really enjoyed it. And it was awesome to spend time with people sharing our same whisky passion and which up to now we had mostly met on Zoom. Going to Campbeltown again was great, and put back in perspective how whisky can (and should) be enjoyed at a slower pace, after all the FOMO and online hysteria which went crazy during the pandemic. Can’t wait to go back!

Springbank Tour

Price: £10.00 pp (October 2021)

Tasting: a 20ml of Springbank 10 and a 50ml of Springbank Distillery Visitors bottling (NAS 46%), and a sampler glass

Target: everyone, literally!

Value for money: Great

Highlights: the malting floors

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: http://springbank.scot/

Glengyle Tour

Price: £10.00 pp (October 2021)

Tasting: a 20ml of Kilkerran 12 and a 50ml of Kilkerran Distillery Visitors bottling (NAS 46%), and a sampler glass

Target: everyone, literally!

Value for money: Great

Highlights: the malting, but the distillery overall

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://kilkerran.scot/

Glen Scotia Tasting*

*Since this was a bespoke tasting, we won’t make a summary card.

Link: https://www.glenscotia.com/