At the peak of Campbeltown’s fame, in 1851, the region was home to 29 legal distilleries plus at least 50 (and probably many more) illicit distilleries. In fact, it was the most productive whisky region in Scotland. Today, sadly, only 3 operating distilleries remain in Campbeltown – Glen Scotia, Springbank and Glengyle distilleries.
The Glengyle Distillery was founded by William Mitchell in 1872. The Mitchel Family wasn’t new to whisky production as they had also owned the Springbank Distillery since 1837 (and indeed, to this day). After a promising beginning, Glengyle was sold in 1919 to West Highland Malt distillers. After only 4 years they closed down Glengyle in 1925 and it sat silent for 75 years.
It was a multi-faceted ‘perfect storm’ of factors all combined to leave the Campbeltown whisky industry devastated and by the year 2000, only 2 working distilleries remained. (we went into this in a bit more detail in our May Malt of the Month).
There was a brief glimmer of hope in the late 30’s when Glengyle was purchased by the Bloch Brothers (who own Glen Scotia Distillery) – but World War 2 intervened and their plans for restoration and expansion of Glengyle never eventuated. Nor did it ever reopen under the Bloch Bros.
So any way, by 2000 Campbeltown was in tatters as a whisky region with only 2 working distilleries. It was around this time the Scotch Whisky Association began to seriously discuss ‘declassifying’ Campbeltown as an official whisky region.
It didn’t take long for this talk of declassification by the SWA to reach the ears of William Mitchel’s Great-Grandson, Hedley Wright. As Chairman of J&A Mitchell (who still own Springbank) there was no way he could let the Campbeltown loose it’s ‘official region’ status and so he set about making sure that didn’t happen.