Springbank Distillery is the oldest independent family owned distillery in Scotland. Founded in 1828 on the site of Archibald Mitchell’s illicit still, the Springbank Distillery is now in the hands of his great great great grand son, Hedley G. Wright. As distillery after distillery set up in Campbeltown, with the demand for malts from this area appearing insatiable, the business of the Mitchell family stretched further. John bought out the Toberanrigh Distillery built by cousin Alexander Wylie, while his sister Mary built Drumore Distillery in 1834 and William founded Glengyle in 1872.
Already in the late nineteenth century, Campbeltown whisky was of the highest quality and in enormous demand by blenders. Before the turn of this century it was highly peated and only short of being Islay in style. In the early part of this century the fashion in whisky moved away from these heavier types of whisky and Springbank altered accordingly, with malt being dried over coal rather than peat.
With the success of a nearby coal mine, fuel to run the distilleries was plentiful and cheap. And profits for the distillers were handsome. All the major distilling dynasties in the town, the Colvilles, Mitchells, Mactaggarts and Fergusons built large gentlemen’s houses in keeping with the money pouring into the bank accounts and the newfound status of respectability they had acquired. By 1891, Campbeltown with a population of just 1,969 was reputed to be the richest town per capita in Britain.
But every bubble bursts. And in the 1920s, with one or two notable exceptions, distillers in the town had begun cutting corners in the making of their whisky to meet the demand. Soon blenders began to turn their backs on Campbeltown and looked for consistently better malt elsewhere. Only Springbank, Glen Scotia and Rieclachan maintained their quality and their order books open as one by one the other distilleries fell by the wayside. In 1934 it was decided to close Rieclachan, leaving only Springbank and Glen Scotia, as is the case today.
Sixty years on, Springbank stands out proudly and unscathed in the centre of the town that once was the whisky capital of Scotland.