From Washback to Photo Block
I love these photo blocks by Campbeltown photographer Will Anderson - I spotted them when I was in the Campbeltown Cadenhead's Whisky Shop the other day and was very jealous I hadn't thought of it first! (Mind you, my photography skills are not quite up to Will's standard so probably just as well it was him that thought of it and not me.)
They're made using bits of an old Springbank washback and (unused) bungcloths which gives them a really nice chunky, rustic style. It's great to see bits of old distillery kit being given a new lease of life - some of the washback has also been used for shelving and displays in the recently expanded whisky shop. Lot of wood in a washback though so I wonder where else we're going to see it pop up - will keep you posted if I spot it in any other incarnations!
For some reason our copy of the 4th Edition of Scotch Missed by Brian Townsend arrived some 10 days before the official release date so thought I’d do a wee preview review for anyone out there considering buying it. When I say ‘our’ copy, I really mean my husband’s copy (but what’s his is mine, right?) - he is a total whisky geek and has had this on order for months now. We already have the first edition in the house so I admit I was initially skeptical about why he needed two copies of the same book. Having perused the new 4th Edition over the last couple of days though, I can see why as it is not the same book at all!
I’ll rephrase that. Parts of the book are the same. It is after all a book about Lost Distilleries so once they are closed, there’s not really anything else to add. There are however a number of striking differences between the two editions (I should point out here that I haven’t read the 2nd and 3rd editions, published in 1997 and 2000 respectively, so cannot include them in my comparisons. Don't know why they are missing from our whisky library, Mark must have slipped up somewhere!)
Firstly the design and layout is so much better! (I’m interested in design ok, I like things to be aesthetically pleasing). Divided into geographical sections, the lost distilleries are accompanied by a very eclectic mix of images; old and new photos, bottle shots, old marketing postcards and posters. Most of the distillery entries also have a picture of the old OS map showing the location, which I love. I would love it even more if the maps were zoomed out a bit more so you could situate the distilleries better in comparison to existing roads etc but that’s just me being very picky.
Secondly the content has also been updated. Yes, as I already mentioned, a lot of the content is the same but there is quite a lot of new stuff too - some 30 extra distilleries have been added since the first 1993 edition; from Brora and Port Ellen, two iconic closed distilleries mothballed in the 80s which I would have expected to be included in the first edition but weren't (maybe they were still classed as mothballed rather than lost) to the half dozen mothballed in 1992/1993 and the more recent closures such as Caperdonich and Port Dundas. However there are also a handful of very old (ie closed in the second half of the 1800s) distilleries which have been added and three ‘lost and found’ distilleries which have risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes since the first edition; Annandale, Glengyle and Imperial/Dalmunach. Interestingly over half of the new additions have some connection to Diageo, or UD/SMD/DCL as was, so I would imagine the author has had access to the Diageo archives since the first edition!
My only criticism, and this is me being very picky, is that I would have liked to see more photos from the present day to compare with what was there before. Admittedly this is not very interesting when the buildings have been completely razed to make way for a supermarket or housing scheme but when there are some vestiges, or indeed complete buildings, left of the original distillery it would be interesting to see. A wee photo of the new Annandale, Glengyle and Dalmunach distilleries would have made a nice addition I feel. As would one of Parkmore, which is described as, ‘externally the most perfect survivor of the late 1890s boom in distilleries’, but there is no photo showing how it looks now. (Incidentally, local chat in Dufftown, where I used to live, attributed the closure of Parkmore to problems with the water supply, possibly due to the limestone quarry nearby, but this may just be local gossip). As I say though, this is me being picky, and there are limits to how many photos one can reasonably fit in a book.
All in all, a very enjoyable read, written in an accessible, engaging style. One for the history buffs rather than the casual drinker though. And definitely worth buying even if you already have the first edition!
Inspired by the book, I had a wander round Campbeltown this afternoon and took some photos of our lost distilleries. Some are more recognisably still distilleries than others!
Okay, so admittedly a housing scheme and a supermarket don't make for the most interesting 'lost distillery' photos. Let's try again...
The Glen Scotia renaissance
Walking along High Street in Campbeltown the other day I was stuck by how nice and well cared for Glen Scotia was looking these days. I’ve lived in Campbeltown, on and off, all my life and believe me, Glen Scotia has never looked so good! In fact it always used to look a bit forlorn and neglected, to the point where even the locals weren’t exactly sure whether it was in production or not.
However, since the newly formed Loch Lomond Group took over in early 2014, all that seems to have changed. Along with the shiny new paint job and signage there is now a brand new shop/visitor centre and distillery tours available. Neither is very clearly signed (although plan in place to correct this) from the outside but pass through the unassuming door, marked Distillery Manager, and you find a very tastefully decorated shop with some nice quirky touches (I love the old Victorian cash register!).
Unfortunately, I didn't manage to go on tour during their recent open day (part of the Campbeltown Malts Festival at the end of May), however the visit of a family friend last week gave me the excuse I was looking for to have a nosy round the inside as well as the outside!
One thing that did surprise me going round was how small it was. Don’t get me wrong, the building itself is massive but despite the imposing facade, the actual production equipment is all quite dinky and much more traditional than I remembered. The mash tun is one of the old cast iron ones, with a modest 2.85 tonne mash, and everything is manually operated - not a computer in a sight (nor discreetly tucked away anywhere that I could see). Shannon, our guide, told us that production currently stands at about 300,000 lpa, with plans to increase this to 500,000 lpa by the end of the year. In the past a lot of Glen Scotia’s production was destined for blend, however the plan is to very much to cut back on that side of the business going forward and concentrate on developing Glen Scotia as a Single Malt.
Intrigued by what I had seen in the distillery and shop, I got in touch with Scott Dickson, the Marketing Manager at Loch Lomond Group, who very kindly took some time to discuss their plans. He is very enthusiastic about Glen Scotia, and about the Loch Lomond stable in general, which he describes as ‘hidden gems’; “With Glen Scotia, the previous owners had a really good cask management system in place, under John Petersen, the master blender. We’re building on that and really want to build on the classic Campbeltown style of malt. We've been working with the team at Springbank and see a great opportunity to work together to really promote Campbeltown as the fifth whisky production region.”
Further building on the importance of Campbeltown as a region, LLG are currently renovating the dunnage warehouse on site so more of the spirit can actually be matured in Campbeltown itself. I did ask whether the goal eventually is for it to be 100% Campbeltown matured but, whisky people being a cautious/superstitious bunch, was informed that while they will be maturing more on site, they will also continue to send stock to their other bonded warehouses in Alexandria and Glen Catrine, “just in case something bad happens, it’s better to have it a bit spread out”.
To achieve that typical Campbeltown style, Scott explained, “We produce three types of single malt at Glen Scotia; unpeated, lightly peated and heavily peated. These are married together by our Master Blender, John Petersen, to give the style we are looking for. We are particularly pleased with Victoriana as we feel it is the closest we can get to the original Campbeltown style with that lovely sea spray, salty tang”
Now, I must confess I haven’t actually tried the Victoriana yet, but I intend to rectify this very shortly. Happily it sounds like it will be much easier for me, and everyone else, to get their hands on Glen Scotia, to buy or to try, going forward. They are in the process of finalising their UK and Global distribution with the intention that Glen Scotia should be much more widely available through specialist independent retailers and whisky bars and they have already confirmed their attendance at The Whisky Show in London in October and expect to be participating in many more festivals and shows in the near future. Excellent news - it’ll be great to see another Campbeltown malt represented on the Festival circuit.
Good news for those coming to Campbeltown as a whisky tourist too - in an eminently sensible move Glen Scotia have decided to offer daily tours at times that do not clash with the existing Springbank ones so should you feel so inclined, you’d be able to tour all 3 Campbeltown distilleries in one day! (Glen Scotia tours are at 11.30am and 3pm. Springbank’s, with option of touring Glengyle as well, at 10am and 2pm).
Glen Scotia Tours can be booked by calling +44 (0) 1586 552288 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org Individual tours and tastings on request.
Thanks to Scott Dickson for the information and photos of the shop (mine didn't really do it justice!) and the new product range.
The ‘before’ shots of the distillery and the product range I got from Google images so apologies if have not credited someone that should be!
Whisky Impressions is run by Kate Watt. Previously at Springbank and then Glenfarclas, I now design some whisky related stuff and write about it, and anything else that takes my fancy, on this blog.