Glen Scotia brings Campbeltown to the Fringe

If visitors won’t come to the distillery then the distillery will come to them, as Peter Ranscombe discovers.

IT’S safe to say that only the most hardcore whisky fans will have visited Campbeltown.

While many Scotch nuts will make the pilgrimage to Speyside or catch a plane or a ferry to Islay, the three-hour drive from Glasgow to Campbeltown means that it’s well off the beaten track for most tourists.

Perched at the foot of the Mull of Kintyre, the town was once home to 35 distilleries and was at the heart of the Victorian whisky industry.

Today, it has just three, yet it’s still recognised as a distinct region, with its own salty twang and oily mouthfeel.

Sitting so far away from other whisky regions, the distilleries in Campbeltown have always had to make a special effort to ply their wares.

And one of those distilleries has come up with a new way to entice drinkers with its Scotch – if they won’t come to the distillery then the distillery will come to them.

The Glen Scotia Single Malt Whisky Grand Tour premiered at Borough Market in London earlier this year and made its Scottish debut this weekend at the Whisky Fringe, the annual gathering organised by Royal Mile Whiskies at the Mansfield Traquair centre in Edinburgh.

The pop-up event recreates the distillery, complete with giant wall-filling photographs of the inside of the dunnage warehouses for masterclasses, with a very special cask even making the journey from Campeltown.

Iain McAlister – distillery manager at Glen Scotia, which was one of the whiskies that starred in my series of introduction to Scotch videos with Amelia Singer and Mike Turner last year – was also on-hand to lead the masterclass and share his passion for his spirit with the throng of fans who packed into the venue.

The master at work

McAlister opened his masterclass with the Glen Scotia 18-year-old single malt Scotch whisky (£89.95, Royal Mile Whiskies), which was aged in a second-fill bourbon cask and then finished for 12 months in an oloroso sherry hogshead.

Plenty of classic caramel, heather and orange marmalade aromas on the nose and then a crunch of salted popcorn, a crack of black better and a spicy kick of cloves on the palate.

Shifting up a gear, the Glen Scotia Victoriana (£78.95, Royal Mile Whiskies) was designed to recreate the flavours of the Victorian era, with brown sugar, treacle and raisins on the nose morphing into sweet honey, dried apricots and richer molasses on the palate.

What struck me most about the whisky was that there were still some fruitier peach and red apple flavours peaking through the smoke from the heavy alligator char used to finish 70% of the whisky, with the remainder treated to time in sweet pedro ximinez sherry casks.

Finally, McAlister grabbed his hammer and knocked the bung out of that very special cask he’d been persuaded to bring with him.

The cask dated from 1989 – before McAlister’s time at the distillery and pre-dating the modern computerised and barcoded records – and so it had a wee surprise in store for the assembled guests.

McAlister deduced that the cask must previously have held a peated whisky, as those familiar notes of TCP and coal smoke joined the caramel and honey tones on the nose, with more peat blasting through on the palate alongside chewy wood tannins and heat from the 54% cask-strength spirit.

An oddity, but a very enjoyable oddity – perhaps not unlike the whole Campbeltown region itself.