I seem to have been writing about J & A Mitchell quite a lot recently, but since last weekend marked the 12th Anniversary of the opening (re-opening?) of Mitchell’s Glengyle distillery, I figured that warranted another post. At least it is about Kilkerran this time rather than Springbank!
At the time, it was quite a novelty - it was one of the forerunners in the wave (now practically a tsunami) of new Scottish Distilleries, and the first distillery to open in Campbeltown in well over 100 years. The original Glengyle distillery had been founded in 1872 by William Mitchell, who ran it until 1919, when it was sold. It closed its doors a few years later in 1925. Although all the distilling equipment was removed, and the stock sold off, the distillery buildings themselves remained pretty much intact over the intervening years, being used first as a rifle range, then as an agricultural depot.
The story goes that Mr Hedley G Wright, current chairman of J & A Mitchell Co Ltd, during one of his visits to Springbank, had noticed that the buildings were for sale and commented, “Hmm, my great-great uncle used to own Glengyle. I think I should buy it.” I may be paraphrasing slightly but you get the idea! Buy it he did (in November 2000), and the ambitious plan to create a brand new distillery within the walls of the old one began.
The first time I saw the soon to be new Glengyle distillery, in 2002, it was an empty shell. A very large empty shell! Over the next couple of years though, I, along with all the other staff at Springbank, gradually watched the new distillery come to life under the direction of Mr Wright and Frank McHardy, who was Springbank Distillery Manager at the time.
The stills and mill were sourced second hand - the stills from Ben Wyvis distillery and the mill from Craigellachie - although the shape of the stills was altered somewhat to give the distillery character they wanted. The rest of the equipment was new though - the very large stainless steel mash tun was brought down by road (I’d have hated to be stuck behind that lorry on the way down to the town!) and fitted by Forsyths of Speyside. I vividly remember watching the washbacks be built on site - now that was impressive! If you’ve ever been to a cooperage and watched them building casks, it was like that but on a much, much larger scale. The noise of 5 or 6 guys hammering the huge hoops into place around the newly installed washbacks was something else! I also remember the first time the new washbacks were filled - and the water just poured out the bottom! They do that apparently, until the giant staves absorb enough water to expand into place and make them watertight. That’ll be why they were filled with water first then, won’t it? (That’s also why wooden washbacks are kept full of water when not in use, so that they don’t dry out and start leaking).
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.