On Sept 25-28, 2023, Ryan (USA), Sam (Canada), Daniel (Argentina/Holland) and I (Canary Islands) got on a plane to participate in the extended Springbank eat, sleep, dram, repeat distillery tour. It was absolutely worth the journey and the price. We had a grip of fun, made new friends, tried some rarified and forthcoming bottlings and learned a fair bit. For those of you considering the adventure, you should absolutely book it. It was the highlight of our trip to Scotland. Here are some personal thoughts and expectation setting to get the best experience.
The people rock.
I’ve done many a distillery tour in my day, and I can say hands down that the people we engaged with were a blast. Passionate. Irreverent. Above the standard cut. We had so much fun with Donald, joking and learning. He opened doors and bottles and told stories that connected us to both Campbeltown and Springbank. Ali was a sweetheart during our main walkabouts. They quickly got the sense that we are long time fans and know our stuff and they fully leaned in. You could clearly see them pick up on our energy. I’ve been in the service industry a long time and can tell you that often, the biggest impact on your experience is the energy you bring as a customer. So while things will never be perfect (we had a flat tire on the way out and missed a bunch of important appointments, Ryan’s suitcase broke, the distillery wasn’t actually running etc etc etc), If you bring the fun, the team will match your energy. If that is a bit preachy, I’m saying it as I watched some other people have very different experiences and it was all on them.
Distillery timing matters!
Find out which distillery is operating and what marquee they are making before confirming dates. As of 2023, they run the Springbank distillery for 9 months (Hazelburn then Longrow then Springbank) and the Kilkerran distillery for 3 months. We came the week they transitioned between distilleries. There wasn’t much happening at Springbank and Kilkerran was just warming up. No distilling and a lot of folks were out. We saw a ton from malting onwards, but would have loved to see it in action. Coming a week earlier or later would have been far better for the experience we wanted. That probably matters less to some and more to others.
You will try so many great pours.
The Springbank distillery warehouse and forthcoming tasting(s) were pure magic. Old isn’t always better, but when it is old AND better, that is something special. Getting to try a 32 year old Springbank, a 28 year old Longrow and a 30 something year old Hazelburn right from the cask, was pretty special. All three great pours. But the standout ended up being the 18 year old Kilkerran. What a barrel. For those of you who have dreams of just wandering the warehouse with a whisky thief, join the club. Unfortunately, that really isn’t how it works in Scotland. Figure I’d flag it so you aren’t surprised. Casks are picked before hand, set up for tastings, and duty is paid. Regulations and all that.
The warehouse tasting was bookended by multiple forthcoming tastings. It really helps me to know how much suffering I should endure to try to get some unobtainium. Personally, the Springbank Local Barley 13 and Palo Cortado 10 stood out. And I definitely will pass on the next Hazelburn Sherry (but others in our crew liked it).
In contrast, the Cadenhead’s warehouse tasting struggled a touch to connect, though the Paul John they included really stood out. It’s hard to please such a diverse set of palates, but they more than made up for it with the bottles in their bar.
To top it off, Springbank’s Washback Bar had a litany of awesome pours. I finally got to try the Springbank 30 and quite enjoyed it. And you might even meet some pretty special characters if you get lucky (Hi Ralfy)!
The food was wonderful – especially the vegetarian fare.
Breakfast and dinners just blew us away. Tasty, sizable. Sam is a vegetarian and I often watch him get served afterthoughts again and again. Not at Springbank. He had fantastic dishes right on par with everyone else. Lunch was super tasty but too small given how much sampling we were doing. I rarely eat or drink this much but needed that padding. You might consider bringing a snack. We actually skipped the offered soup / sandwich the second day to go to a restaurant for a full meal before blending. So glad we did because the blending was potent.
Blending your heart out.
Personal advice, don’t be afraid to taste and spit. I struggle with that as I hate “wasting” good whisky. But, I am a methodical blender and there is no scenario in which I can taste dozens of blends without the room spinning. Ryan and I didn’t spit and that was a mistake. The 5 single casks they used were all great (the 15 year rum was bonkers good) and it was fun making something special to bring home. Can’t wait for the next whisky night with friends.
The house was solid.
The beds are nice. The location is super convenient; across the street from a super market and one block from the distillery. Parking was available. The team was on top of it, and had the place feeling like home, while still giving us space. A hard balance to achieve. I literally wouldn’t change a thing. The living room had a nice place to hang out, and a daily set of handfilled bottles to crack at any time.
As a new distiller and coordinator of a global club, I had a bunch of things I was hoping to accomplish (coordinating a zoom tasting for The Distillates with Cadenhead’s and Kilkerran; chat with one of the distillers about some questions I have on approach and how they resolve certain types of issues I’ve run into; dig way deeper into how Kilkerran is evolving as I really like it; pick up a couple cage bottles). I made the mistake of assuming that there would be natural spaces for these things to happen organically. I would have been far more successful if I had laid it out and coordinated specifically with Springbank. I’d suggest letting them know a bit about you, your level of experience and what you want from the visit. More than anything I would have loved a good technical tour / conversation with someone from the production crew and I think that could have happened with the right planning. Totally on me for not coordinating but it’s something I think Springbank could add to their booking process to personalize their offering.
First off, the infinity cask handfill bottles are such a fun concept, and changed a surprising amount daily. Test first – its like a box of chocolates.
There was confusion between staff on what limited access bottles we would get to buy as this is a new offering. Unfortunately the expectations set and the reality did not match. People told us we could purchase two cage bottles each but then clarified it would be only one on the final day after getting up early and standing in line. While I get the limited access, and don’t begrudge them trying hard to give people the most opportunity, the back and forth was awkward to say the least. They did let us make requests and grabbed one from the back, which was really cool. I’m pretty sure this confusion won’t happen in the future, but I would strongly advise Springbank that if someone comes and stays four days with them, giving the same limits as someone who walks in off the street feels misaligned. Totally get the complexity, but each of us crossed an ocean to visit. We aren’t people doing the regular circuit between SWA and Campbeltown.
You will love it.
Would I do it again? Hands down. I’m already starting to think about a 2028 visit for the 200th anniversary. Especially if some of the new Campbeltown distilleries are up and running by then as I like to see what the new kids are up to as well as breath in the legacy.