Firstly we should deal with the name of this revived distillery, which was originally known as Glengyle, but will be bottled as Kilkerran. The distillery can trace its existence back to the boom times circa 1872, when Campbeltown was a bustling hotbed of whisky production.
Glengyle was established by William Mitchell, who had whisky in his blood being the son of Archibald Mitchell, who was responsible for the creation of the illustrious Springbank distillery. The family business was increasingly becoming whisky orientated, assisted by their existing interests in farming. This was a common feature during the early days of whisky in Scotland, where many farmers had the land and resources to distil on a small scale, thereby creating farm distilleries across the country.
For William, the creation of Glengyle was a signal of intent after what is believed to be a family disagreement over sheep. Ending the family partnership with his brother, William established his own distillery just down the road from Springbank. Unfortunately hard times were on the horizon for the whisky industry with the Pattison crisis impacting on consumer confidence and in the following decades the arrival of the First World War, then the Great Depression and Prohibition. For Campbeltown a change in consumer tastes was also a driving force in its decline, with many preferring the more accessible and lighter style pursued by the Speyside region.
In 1925, Glengyle was closed shortly after being sold for the modest fee of £300. The maturing stock was sold at auction the following year, never to be seen again. After this the distillery remained dormant with the empty warehouses being purchased in 1929 by the Craig brothers and converted into a working garage. Unlike many distilleries in Campbeltown and across Scotland, the original Glengyle buildings survived relatively intact. Over the years they catered for a variety of uses including a Rifle Club and an agricultural company. During these uses, there were attempts to revive Glengyle and its original function as far back as 1957, but without success.
Then at the turn of the millennium, everything aligned and Hedley Wright, the owner of Springbank distillery purchased Glengyle, heralding much excitement amongst enthusiasts. As a descendant to its founder William Mitchell, the team at Springbank had the resources, know-how and passion to revive this lost Campbeltown distillery. A great deal of work was required including the renovation of the buildings and the installation of the distilling equipment, all of which had been lost over the years. Production commenced again in March 2004, and with just a set of stills its output is a modest 750,000 litres annually, although given the reception of its whiskies to date, it’s likely to increase.
Enthusiasts have been able to follow the development of the Glengyle whisky via the inventive Work In Progress (WIP) series that started in 2009 and was repeated annually until the final instalment in 2015. This was the WIP number 7 that offered a bourbon wood matured bottling and a sherry wood expression. Throughout the development, the standard has been consistently high and reminiscent of an old style whisky. Given the expertise at Springbank, its quality should come as no surprise.
The goal for the team was always the 12-year-old and this finally arrived in 2016 and it did not disappoint. Since then, Glengyle has released various limited expressions often with varying cask types that are consistently very good and well priced. 2017 has already seen an 8-year-old cask strength released to widespread acclaim with more surprises to follow no doubt.
Why the Kilkerran name? Unfortunately, another company has used the Glengyle name for several years, as a blended Highland whisky, with Speyside whiskies preferring the Glen prefix unlike their Campbeltown counterparts. Brand acquisition was considered, but it was felt that to avoid consumer confusion, whisky from this revived distillery should have a name of its own i.e. Kilkerran. This name has its roots prior the foundation of Campbeltown, when Saint Kerran and his clan established their settlement on this fertile site, blissfully unaware that whisky would soon follow. Whatever the name, Glengyle is one of Scotland’s most exciting distilleries and is setting the benchmark for others to follow.