Campbeltown Malts Festival: Glasgow to Campbeltown, and a walking tour

Getting out of bed the next morning was easier than could be expected, but the motivation was there. The bus for Campbeltown was leaving Buchanan at a quarter past nine, and if we missed that bus we would miss our first event: A walking tour with Kate Watt. So we made haste towards the bus station, stopping at a convenient Sainsbury’s for lunch and drink supplies and made it to Buchanan in good time. But then we decided coffee would be a good idea, and Mats was left to watch our bags while Eva and I got in line at the station cafe. Unfortunately the guy behind the counter turned out to be unable to keep track of orders and money received (and also be eager to chat to regulars, which is understandable, but inconvenient). But we got our coffee eventually, found seats on the bus and (well, speaking for myself) relaxed mentally. With a four hour bus ride ahead of us, there was not much to do except lean back and enjoy the Scottish landscape zooming past.

In Inverary the bus stops for ten minutes and I sprinted over to Loch Fyne Whiskies to see if they had any of their own bottlings available. Since they did, a Bunnahabhain, I made a purchase of that plus a variety pack of three Fyne Ales bottles. When I exited the shop and checked the time I realised I still had seven minutes, enough to obtain a cup of coffe, hopefully, before the bus left. Pretty efficient shopping, even if I do say so myself.

Utsikt fra bussen
View from the bus

After Inverary the bus stopped by Kennacraig ferry terminal, naturally, which is where you’d get the ferry to Islay, and I must admit I was a little tempted to jump off and get on board the ferry, but I resisted, and soon after Campbeltown came into view at last.

Campbeltown is not a big town, so we found Earadale B&B easily enough, and were led from there around the block to No 16 Argyll Street, where the self catering flat we had ooked for the next two night was located. We’d observed a Cooperative branch from the bus, and with no time to lose we set off for it and purchased the neccessary breakfast and snack staples for our two day stay. With about half an hour to spare before our rendevouz down at the harbour, I set off in search of Fish & Chips (I was getting distinctly peckish), and found an open cafe at last, though I had to bring the food and eat it on the move.

No 16 Argyle Street
No 16 Argyle Street

We met Kate Watt and 15-20 other walking (or pubcrawl) tour participants by the Tourist Information by the harbour, all ready and eager for Whisky Impressions’ first guided walk: Liquid History.

Kate Watt, Whisky Impressions
Kate Watt, Whisky Impressions

Kate started the tour by giving us an introduction to the history of Campbeltown. I took plenty of notes for my own benefit, but I’ll skip the history lesson here.


We visited three pubs as part of the tour (but had many more pointed out to us), The Feathers, Kilbrannan and Burnside, and had a “half and half” at each one, that is half a pint of beer and a half measure of whisky. The whisky was good and the pubs were friendly, but the beer selection was pretty dire. Tenants and Guiness were repeat performers, as well as Heverlee, new to us, but not an aquaintance we were eager to develop further. Nevertheless, we had a very good time, and I will most certainly repeat the experience if I ever get the chance.

We’d have happily hung out with Kate and the rest of the group for a good while longer, but were painfully aware that we had a dinner to attend and that we were rather in need of a brush up before that, so we bid our goodbyes and headed back to base. A report from the dinner, well, the parts I actually participated in, will follow.

More pictures on Flickr.

Springbank 12 years 43%

In a ceramic jug, from the 1990ies.


Nose: Raisins, milk chocolate, caramellised something, fried butter and a little eucalyptus. Water brings out the sherry and some congeners, a hint of cellar, possibly some mould.

Palate: Burnt sugar and oak cask. With water the wood tastes rawer, there are a fair few congeners, but also toffee and sherry notes.

Comments: Somewhat strange on the nose, but not at all unpleasant. The congeners are a pluss, they help make the dram more interesting. I prefer the roughness of this to the elegance of the 17 year old. It’s ovbiously worth keeping a look out for these old bottlings.

Springbank Sherry Wood 17 years 52.3%


Nose: Sweed Panda liquorice, Allsorts also, orange marmelade. With water the buttery part of butterscotch and after a while in the glass a hint of smoke.

Palate: Oak. Water opens it up and I find liquorice and eventually the familiar Springbank bitterness, but on this one it’s not overwhelming.

Comments: Very clean and elegant, not a sherry bomb at all. A little too clean and elegant, in that it gets a little boring after a while, but very nice, by all means.

Springbank Rum Wood 12 years 54.6%

Distilled 1989, bottled April 2002 (newly opened bottle).

springbank_rumwood Nose: Rum, apple, butterdough. Chalk and ashes. More ashes with water, but also fresher fruit, green grapes and spruce shoot tips.
Palate: Butterscotch first, malt and cedar wood. The finish is dry, bitter and somewhat ashy, but the buttery taste stays. Water brings out oatcakes with butter, with green grapes, but no cheese.

Comments: Original, but is it good? Unfortunately I have to settle for “No”. It’s the bitterness on the palate again, and there is not enough sweetness to balance it. And this weird buttery character. Is it because of the rum cask? Rum hardly tastes of butter, so I don’t know. Could it be the fattiness of the spirit that reacts this way with the rum cask? In any case, I’m underwhelmed, again.

Springbank Sherry Wood 13 years 53.2%

Distilled 1989, bottled 2003 (newly opened bottle).

springbank_sherrywoodNose: Plums, apples and a hint of cinnamon. Vague whiff of a lit fireplace and ashes. With water it develops sweathy leather and a lightly bitter note, green tree, tobacco and herbs.

Palate: Dusty malt floors, apple compote with cinnamon, red berries, lightly bitter. The bitterness grows with water, it develops tobacco on the palate as well and gets an obvious saltiness (especially on the tip of the tongue). It’s the bitterness, salt and lightly ashy notes that stick around as a finish.

Comments: The nose is lovely and complex, but the palate reminds me of why I’m never completely sold on Springbank. There is too much bitterness for it to work for me.

Springbank Port Wood 13 years 54.2%

Distilled 1989, bottled 2003 (newly opened bottle).


Nose: Red, sweet plums, vanilla and oak, strawberry jam. With water it develops marzipan. Only once I’ve added quite a lot of water does a faint smokiness appear, and at the same time it smells like a boiled sweets factory.

Palate: Sweet wood, a hint of smoke, sweet liquorice. Water gives it a bitter, oaky bite, which for once is a good thing as it balances the sweetness a bit. There is also a whiff of burnt rubber.

Comments: Well. Too sweet by far to be a winner, but a decent session dram.

Longrow 8 years 2010 Open Day 58.5%

Distilled 2001, matured in an ex-shiraz hogshead. Purchased at the Cadenhead’s shop in Campbeltown in 2010, I split a bottle with Leif Olav (after a week on Islay we both had enough bottles in our luggage so a shared bottle seemed like a good idea).

Nose: Pretty spirity, some smoke, the insides of a damp, wine-soaked cask (as if you stick your nose in the bung hole of a recently emptied cask and sniff it). More obvious smoke with water, since the intense spirit disappears. Dried apricots and grilled pineapple, green apples and lemon balm (the herb).

Palate: Immediately a little anonymous, a lot of alchohol and a touch of oak. With water it develops smoke on the palate as well, cold rock and some tropical fruits.

Comments: Definitely needs water to flourish, but is scarily easy to drink at full strength, though rather boring. Very fruity once water is added. The wine cask is not obvious at all, except for that initial “damp cask insides” on the nose.

Kilkerran Work in Progress 5 Sherry Wood 46%

kilkerran_wip5sherryNose: Lemon-scented detergent (but more lemon than detergent, thankfully) and dry sherry. Water does not really change much, though less obvious alchohol lessens the impression of detergent.

Palate: Dry wood, citrus and a somewhat sickening sweeteness. Wood varnish. With water I get bitter orange peel.

Comments: I strongly prefer the bourbon wood. This one is just a decent dram, there’s nothing special about it at all.

Kilkerran Work in Progress 5 Bourbon Wood 46%


Nose: Young wood, lime, juniper wood and vanilla. With water I find more citrus and lemon, dry herbs (rosemary?) and malt.

Palate: Dry wood, vanilla, spruce needles and citrus. Water brings out a more bitter woody note, but also malt and dusty wooden floors.

Comments: Not exactly unpleasant. I like WIP 1 the best, and regret not buying more. However, this is quite pleasant enough to make WIP 6 tempting.

Springbank Vintage 2000 for Jon Bertelsen 58.5%

Bottled in 2008, cask number 401 gave 322 bottles.

Bottle kill. Much sadness.
Bottle kill. Much sadness.

Nose: Potato crisps with paprika. Malt and vanilla with a touch of smoke. With water I get balck pepper and a dose of barbequed chicken.

Palate: Smoke, ashes and malt. With water, much of the same. Not that this is a peat monster, the smoke is contained, but very clear. Salt bisquits and on the finish something vegetational.

Comments: Bottle-kill. The last few cl have been hanging around the bottle for a while, so that might have affected the taste. Takes a lot of water. This was the first Springbank I liked well enough to buy a bottle of, and it’s therefore a sort of milestone in my personal whisky history.