Paul McCartney’s famous song, the Mull of Kintyre, speaks of the mist rolling in from the sea, so that’s our first visit. Campbelltown is on the Kintyre Peninsula from where, on a clear day, you can see the coast of Ireland. Campbelltown was a major producer of Single Malt Scotch with 28 distilleries but now just 3 remain.
Luckily, whiskies from two of them, Glen Scotia and Springbank, are available in South Africa. Springbank is one of the most respected single malts in the whisky world. It has an adoring fan base who regard the distillery with reverence reserved for place of worship. In a very unusual step, the distillery produces 3 distinct styles of whisky. The classic Springbank, distilled 2 ½ times; Hazelburn, a gentle unpeated triple-distilled malt and Longrow, a double-distilled heavily peated dram.
If you spend a bit of time on the remote Mull, a hilly outcrop, you’ll sometimes experience 3 seasons in a day, so it makes sense to bring along 3 different styles of whisky.
Next we go to the Highlands for some sport. The Highland Games are proof that living in a country famous for whisky sometimes leads to strange activities, so put on your kilt, start blowing the bagpipes, pick up a large log and throw it as far as you can. That’s called tossing the caber and is the most popular sport during the Highland Games. I think a few bottles of whisky were emptied when they thought up that sport! Thankfully the whisky is much more civilized and there are even South African connections.
Blair Athol distillery is in the Highlands and it produces the single malt that is the lead malt in Bell’s. It’s also close to Blair Castle, so put on your tuxedo because we’re going for dinner at the Castle with the Duke of Athol, Bruce Murray - who lives in the Free State!
The Athol Highlanders are the only private army in Europe and they protect the castle and the Duke. Many years ago they protected the castle from the invading English, and now they’re there to make sure the whisky is safe.
Other notable whiskies include GlenDronach, which for a few years was owned by a couple of South Africans and Dalmore, home to Richard Paterson, known fondly in whisky circles as “the nose”. In 2013, 12 bottles of Dalmore specially created by Richard went on sale for around R 18 million.
The Lowlands, a tranquil part of Scotland, filled with heather and flowers, isn’t a region famous for single malts but produces the biggest volume of whisky in Scotland. It’s here where grain distilleries such as Girvan and Cameron Bridge produce the liquid that forms the backbone of any blended whisky.
Without grain, 91% of the whisky in the world wouldn’t be produced. Grain whisky is the blank canvas on which the master blenders paint with the colours of single malts, producing classic blended whiskies such as Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walker and Grant’s. The malt distilleries include GlenKinchie, one of the Classic Malts, producing an elegant and refined pre-dinner drink and Auchentoshan, (google the pronunciation and have a laugh) which produces a lesser known but outstanding range of whiskies.
Questions about drinks? Email [email protected] or tweet @bernardgwhisky