Springbank Distillery – Legal Since 1828

Springbank Distillery History

Founded officially in 1828 by Archibald Mitchell, Springbank was the 14th licensed distillery in Campbeltown. However, Springbank distillery sits on the site of Archibald Mitchell’s original illicit operations; the only remaining evidence of which is a local coppersmith’s ledger evidencing Mr Mitchell’s need for a kettle-shaped piece of copper prior to 1828.

Thankfully, for whisky enthusiasts, the Mitchell family have kept many of the old methods for distillation. Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland to carry out 100% of the production process on site (from malting, to warehousing and bottling). Springbank distillery is well worth the trip to Campbeltown, even if just to see how they did it back in the day.

Empty Casks Glengyle

Getting there

  • Springbank Distillery is at 85 Longrow, Campbeltown PA28 6EX, on the west coast of Scotland.  Campbeltown is a 3-hour drive from Glasgow via the A83.
  • Citylink coaches run several services from Glasgow to Campbeltown daily. For timetables see http://www.travelinescotland.com

What else is nearby

  • Glengyle Distillery (Kilkerran Single Malt) – just along the road from Springbank, and part of the J&A Mitchell & Co. stable. Founded by Archibald Mitchell’s son William in 1872, it ceased distilling in 1925, and changed hands several times before returning to the Mitchell family holdings in 2000. The distillery reopened in 2004 after major restorations and a complete refurbishment.
  • Islay (drive or bus 926 to Kennacraig). If driving, ensure you’ve pre-booked your car via the Calmac website. If you are not taking a car on the ferry you do not need to (and cannot) pre-book tickets.
  • Isle of Arran Distillery  via Claonaig-Lochranza Ferry (calmac.co.uk) – bus via 926 Campbeltown to Glasgow, connecting with the 448 Lochgilphead – Skipness (For timetables see http://www.travelinescotland.com)

Springbank Distillery Tours and Booking Information

  • Springbank offers 4 different tours priced from 7 GBP to 100 GBP.
  • The tour I went on was the 7GBP Springbank Tour, led by the delightful, and very knowledgeable, Jim.
  • For tour days and times go to http://www.springbankwhisky.com/tours/
  • For further information and bookings call 01586 551 710 or email tours@springbank.scot

Accommodation

Useful Information

  • Cadenhead Whisky Shop 30-32 Union St, Campbeltown PA28 6HY is the main tour start/finish point.

How to pronounce Springbank

This is an easy one by Scotch whisky standards

Springbank Distillery Whiskies

Springbank

A lightly peated, complex, full-bodied, maritime dram that is “not for novices”. A tasting of the Springbank 10yo is available as part of the standard Springbank tour.

Longrow

First distilled in 1973, Longrow is the result of an experiment to prove that you can produce an Islay-style single malt on the mainland. Longrow Red is an annual small release bottled at cask strength. A different type of red wine cask is used each year to mature the whisky.

Hazelburn

First distilled in 1997, using air-dried only (unpeated) malt and triple distilled. The Hazelburn 10-year-old is one of my favourite whiskies – it is super smooth and very drinkable!

The Springbank Distillery Process

Malting

The process begins with soaking barley grains in tanks or ‘steeps’ of cool, clean water from Crosshill Loch.  The barley will stay in the water for up to three days to trigger germination – the grains will swell and produce the enzyme amylase, which is a vital part of the mash process later. Once removed from the steep, the barley layered six inches deep on the malting floors.

There are 2 malting floors at Springbank distillery, which hold ~10 tonnes of barley per floor. Six people form the production team, and during malting, 3 shifts run over 24 hours, with 2 people on each shift turning the malted barley at least twice per shift. The production team use malt shovels to turn the barley – they walk back and forth through the malt grains, aerating and redistributing them as they pass.

The malted barley sits on the floor for up to 4 days before it is drained from the malt floor onto the mesh drying floor in the kiln.

Very few distilleries still malt their own grains as the process is incredibly labor and space intensive. Springbank Distillery is the only distillery in Scotland to malt 100% of their grains on site.

Kilning

The kiln temperature reaches around 45-60 deg c during kilning, and the different whiskies need different drying times and air compositions.

  • Springbank: 6 hours of peat smoke, 30 hours of hot air.
  • Longrow: up to 48 hours with peat smoke.
  • Hazelburn: 30 hours of hot air (no peat!).

After kilning, Springbank store the malted barley in one of 10 grain silos. Each silo holds up to 22 tonnes of malted grain.

The malting/kilning process will continue for ~12 weeks. The milling and distillation process begins once all 10 silos are full.

Milling

Next up is the milling stage. Springbank’s 1940s Porteous mill crushes the dried malt into grist. The grist comprises 20% husks, 70% middles and 10% flour.

Malt Conveyor Springbank Distillery

Mashing

The production team combine the grist with hot water in Springbank’s open-top the mash tun, forming a thick porridge that needs constant stirring. During the mash process, starches in the malt grist convert into sugars via the enzyme amylase, produced during the malting process. Open mash tuns are now uncommon due to the amount of heat energy lost through the open top, however, while not energy efficient, the old cast-iron tub at Springbank is a thing of beauty.

Springbank uses four mash cycles with increasing temperatures. The 1st water uses 17,000 litres at 63.5 deg C, 2nd water uses 6,000 litres at 72 deg C, the 3rd water uses 15,000 litres at 82 deg C and the 4th water uses 6,000 litres at 82 deg C. The third and fourth waters have very little sugar in them, and become the first water for the next mash cycle.

The water used in all Springbank distillery production processes is from the Crosshill Loch, a storage reservoir 1 mile south of Campbeltown.

Old cast-iron mash tuns like the one at Springbank (which is roughly a century old) take far longer to empty than they do to fill as the filtering process is very slow.  It is essential that only filtered husk-less water (wort) passes from the mash tun into the washbacks. One full mash cycle (fill, mix and filter) at Springbank is ~10 hours.

The leftover filtered solids are called draff.  Local farmers use the draff as animal feed, as it has large amounts of protein, trace elements and mineral nutrients.

Open Mash Tun Springbank Distillery

Open Mash Tun Springbank Distillery

Fermentation

In another hark back to tradition, Springbank transfer the sugary wort to wooden (Swedish boatskin larch) washbacks, rather than more modern stainless steel.

There are 6 washbacks in total at Springbank, each able to hold roughly 21,000 litres. Yeast is added to the wort in the washbacks, and over a period of 72 to 110 hours, the yeast ferment the sugars in the wort.

This produces a liquid that resembles milky tea, and is closer to beer than whisky. At approximately 4-6% alcohol, the liquid in the washbacks is now ready for distillation.

Distillation

The liquid from the washbacks passes through 2 (Longrow), 2.5 (Springbank) or 3 (Hazelburn) of Springbanks’s copper stills. Unlike many distilleries, Springbank heat the wash still (first still) externally by oil flame and internally by steam coils.

The low wines and feints produced in the wash still transfer into the low wines and feints receivers via a worm condenser.

Springbank whisky is distilled a total of two and a half times, meaning that the low wines from the first distillation are collected and re-distilled with the feints so that some of the spirit has been distilled twice and some three times.

Spirit Middlecuts
  • Springbank : 76%-60% alcohol
  • Longrow: 69-58% alcohol
  • Hazelburn: 79-63% alcohol

The middle cuts are then transferred to the spirit receiver for hand filling casks.

Three Stills Springbank Distillery

Spirit Safe Springbank Distillery Campbeltown

Low Wines Safe

Cask Filling + Maturation

All 3 whiskies are casked at 63.5%. Malt will be converted into roughly 115,000 litres of whisky once distilled. Springbank’s maximum capacity (for all spirit) is 750,000 litres annually.  Volumes produced will be in the order of 80% Springbank, 10% Longrow, 10% Hazelburn.

Each cask gets 3 fills for maturing whisky. ‘A’ casks are first fill, which will give the darkest finish to the whisky. B casks are on their second fill. C casks are on their third fill and will result in the lightest coloured whisky. Springbank is bottled at minimum 10 years maturation, using a blend of Springbank whisky, matured minimum 10 years in casks A to C.

There are 8 warehouses on site at Springbank distillery, 2 racked and 6 dunnage. Approximately 13,500 casks are maturing on site.

Springbank distillery do not chill-filter or artificially colour any of their whiskies.

Port Casks Dunnage Storage