After enjoying a very sunny, hot, relaxing Springbank open day, the third and last day of the Campbeltown whisky festival was on: Glengyle open day. Boy, what a day it was going to be, filled with events and tasting after tasting! Let’s just say this up front: There were those who had sample bottles (including yours truly) and there were those who didn’t… ahem.
With a whole day’s worth of dramming in front of the six of us, a fully cooked Scottish breakfast, enjoyed outside in the sunshine, was just what we all needed to get going. Okay, we never had anything else for breakfast, but, hey, any excuse, right?
Soon enough it was time to call a taxi (no walking this time!) for a ride into town – for the first event of the day:
Second breakfast – alternative tasting
The folks at Cadenhead’s are well-known for bottling fine whisky, but they’re also bottling Gin, Rum and Cognac, and that’s what the (m)alternative tasting with chief booze flogger (inofficial title I just made up!) Mark Watt was all about. After tasting the standard Old Raj gin (which went very well with the tonic water on the table – kidding, it’s a very good gin!), we were in for a treat: A cask-matured gin! They filled a firkin with very high ABV gin (someone ignored or forgot orders to dilute before casking…) which apparently led to a bizarre situation when Mark poured samples straight from the cask for a few visitors. Whilst Mark thought it had “a bit of a kick”, allegedly some of the guys were gasping for air… Sadly we did not get to taste this 92,3% ABV version, but a “slightly” watered down one – which was still very impressive – and didn’t agree with tonic water at all. A gin for sipping on its own!
Moving on, we got two samples of a 30yo and a 50yo Cognac from the Distillerie Charpentier in the Petit Champagne. Both were very excellent “Cognacs for whisky drinkers”. Personally, I liked the 30yo a tad more – it just had a bit more going on, but both were really, really good and have since been released (and probably sold out now).
At the end of the tasting we finally tapped into the Rum supply, with the first one being the “Classic Rum” (which I thought was okay, but it didn’t really connect with me), and the second one an 18yo Caroni. Such a gritty, dirty, oily, greasy (think tampered-with German diesel engines) dram – but in a really good way! Also probably sold out worldwide by now, sorry. This tasting highlighted the quality of “malternative” distillates out there – it definitely pays off to look at other (and, these days, more affordable) spirits as well. I mean, a 50yo Cognac for 135£… that’s a steal!
Elevenses – Glengyle distillery
Time to head to the Glengyle distillery for the festivities, a lamb burger and trying our luck at the lucky dip bar! It was, once again, a very hot and sunny day, so every bit of shade was occupied instantly! Listening to the brass band, enjoying the lucky dip drams (I wasn’t that lucky with my three drams, but they were all good), chatting with friends and other attendees – time passed quickly! After what felt like mere moments it was time for the next (liquid) meal!
Lunch – Cadenhead’s 175th anniversary tasting
Not just any lunch, mind you, the lunch of lunches – THE Cadenhead’s 175th anniversary tasting with – oh, Mark Watt again! Can’t complain about that! A LOT of people attended the tasting in the Glengyle warehouse next to the distillery, who can blame them, looking at this lineup:
– Hielanman 1971: A blend of several whiskies (already bought by Cadenhead’s as such), destined to be the special release for the festival – before they discovered it had gone (slightly) below 40% ABV and could no longer be sold as whisky. What a shame – but the spirit drink was a very palatableble starter to the tasting, followrd by:
– 1991 Littlemill: Very Littlemill-ish, though I did prefer the one at the tasting on day 1 slightly more
– 1991 Rosebank: I didn’t take any notes on that one, just one big fat exclamation mark. It was my whisky of the tasting – very, very good. Sadly I did not manage to score a bottle… (I’ll live, thanks!)
– 1976 Banff: A very good, very typical 70s Banff – tasted properly here
– 1977 Convalmore: Also a very good dram – tasted here
– 1977 Caperdonich: Stay tuned for proper tasting notes
– 1996 Heaven Hill (pre-fire), matured in Campbeltown since 1999: Decent, but already a bit overcooked in my impression. I preferred the earlier versions, bottled at a younger age, more.
– 1993 Ardbeg: Someone described it as a “punch and a cuddle”. Fine Ardbeg, didn’t knock me off my socks, though – probably the one whisky of the bunch that needed more time and attention than is possible at a tasting setting, so I might be doing it injustice here.
After the tasting people were able to buy the Ardbeg bottled straight from the cask – I chose not to and it saddens me to see bottles of this being flogged at auction for high prices following the festival by what I consider to be soulless profiteers…
Anyway, it was a highly entertaining and good tasting (with just maybe a tad too many people attending, but it was an anniversary event, so you can see why so many wanted to join). The quality and range bottled for the anniversary is truly outstanding as a whole (although I did have my clear personal preferences). There aren’t many bottlers in the business who can put out a range of 1970s whiskies and closed distilleries – and keep them at price levels that ensure quite a few of them will actually be enjoyed instead of collecting dust in a display cabinet.
Time to walk to the Springbank distillery for yet another meal!
Afternoon tea – warehouse tasting
On a hot day like this, what better way is there to escape the heat than by walking into a cool, damp, traditional dunnage warehouse for afternoon tea? Exactly! Oh, and a quick shout out at this point to Bjarne, an avid reader of this wee blog, who I got to meet while queuing for the tasting!
Our host in warehouse #7 was Jenna, responsible for the Cadenhead’s shops dotted around the world, and she did a good job at presenting the six drams – 24yo Glen Grant, 27yo Glentauchers, 11yo Kilkerran Rum matured, 36yo blend, 16 yo Springbank in a New Zealand whisky barrel and “some south-coast Islay”. Quite enjoyable drams, with the Kilkerran Rum and the Springbank standing out for me personally. (No proper tasting notes, sorry). At that point I was definitely glad to have brought a big “dregs bottle” – downing all the drams we got that day would’ve been a bit too much. Some people definitely started to exhibit sea-legs-syndrome…
While waiting for members of our party to play the sports game of the week (queuing for bottles), I bumped into Andy Bell and friends from Arran – nice catching up with you, Andy!
Dinner – Pub time!
Having a bit of time to kill before our final event of the day – and with a few members in our party definitely needing a bit of a rest – a refreshing pint in the “Feathers” was just what we needed to get our strength up again for the event we had been looking forward to for a long time:
Supper – Cadenhead’s 175th anniversary dinner
A three-course meal in the nicely decorated Campbeltown town hall was waiting for us. All six people in our group managed to grab tickets, so it was supposed to be the perfect ending to a great three days of friendship and dramming, before going separate ways again on the next day. A lot of fun was certainly had at our table – remember, some didn’t bring sample bottles – and time flew by while enjoying dinner (I had the delicious Gigha halibut followed by traditional Cranachan), drams to accompany the courses, and table wine. A few other people stopped by our table as well (shout out to Torben and Mark!) and the evening promised more good opportunities for chats and networking. Alas, after dinner, and without prior warning by the organisers, we abruptly had to give up our assigned table, since the entire row was being removed to make space for the dance floor. Perfectly understandable, but we would’ve preferred to be warned about that in advance or being assigned alternative seats afterwards. Since everybody else was still sitting and no alternative space for us to sit was available, we decided against just standing around and left, heading back to our cottage (not without someone “rescuing” the already open table wine…). While I do miss not having had a chance to talk to a few people also attending the dinner, in the end we got to enjoy few more hours as a group in the warm evening air outside our cottage, talking and reminiscing the wonderful three days we had experienced.
It had been a blast! Three absolutely wonderful days at the most laid-back, relaxed (more or less) single-location whisky festival I have ever been. Campbeltown, we will be back!
Onwards and upwards
Saying goodbye to our friends was very hard the next day, but it was a necessary evil. The group split up – with only Jo and myself continuing our holiday in Scotland. Our destination lay way up in the north of Scotland: Inverness for one night, before heading up to the Orkneys the day afterwards. It was a long, but beautiful drive, taking the B-road out of Campbeltown, stopping in Skipness at the wee village store and Oban (where we bumped into Steffen Bräuner at the distillery, good meeting you again!), before the rain got denser and denser the further north we got.
More about the Orkney adventures next time, stay tuned!