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"It’s Campbeltown’s time and it’s beyond exciting" - why Scotland's smallest whisky-producing region is having a renaissance

As a host of new distilleries are set to open in Scotland’s smallest whisky region, Rosalind Erskine asks if Campbeltown is having a renaissance.

“Campbeltown is going to come out as the new Islay,” says a smiling Iain Croucher, co-founder of one of the town's newest distilleries Dal Riata.

And while Iain has skin in this game, he may not be wrong as his isn’t the only new distillery in the works in what was the ‘whisky capital of the world.’

Once home to almost 30 distilleries, Campbeltown was a powerhouse and, as such, is recognised as a whisky region.

Now this wee toon, as it’s known, is only home to three distilleries and, a few years ago, risked losing its regional status.

But there are plans brewing. Quite literally. The Dal Riata team have submitted plans for their distillery, which will be located on Kinloch Road overlooking Campbeltown Loch.

The name Dál Riata is derived from the ancient kingdom that existed on the Western coast of Scotland and Northeast Ireland between the 6th and 9th Centuries.

Permission is also pending on distillery plans for Dhurrie farm in Machrihanish.

These plans come from the owners of the Isle of Raasay Distillery, R&B Distillers, who want to add a second single malt whisky brand to their portfolio by building The Machrihanish Distillery to create Campbeltown’s first farm-to-bottle single malt.

The new distillery will also include a visitor centre and whisky club.

Whisky expert Charles Mclean also hints that there’s a few more in the planning stages, when we sit down to chat during the first in-person Campbeltown Malts Festival since 2019.

“The good news is that there are two distilleries that are going ahead and another two that are proposed, so there is a renaissance in distilling in Campbeltown,” he said.

“It has had its ups and downs, not only because of the whisky but also because of the fishing.

"I’ve known Campbeltown for over 30 years and my goodness it has really picked up in the last 10-15 years and is a very vibrant place.”

While Campbeltown has a rich whisky history, why is it now that new distilleries are being planned and built?

For R&B Distillers’ it was a link to the area plus a clear plan to be a leading artisan distiller in Scotland.

Co-founder Bill Dobbie’s family were from the Campbeltown area and, he said, they can now build on Raasay’s success. There’s also the growing global demand for quality drinks with a strong provenance. 

For Dal Riata, it was the history of the location, and Iain’s belief that Campbeltown produces some of the best whiskies as well as timing.

Iain said: “It’s a perfect place to make whisky. The whisky and history - they just lend themselves to (Campbeltown) needing a resurgence. It needs people who have the ability and the resources to invest in a place like Campbeltown.”

This growing interest in Campbeltown’s whiskies, old and new, will no doubt bring a boost to the town and malts festival (which is still relatively new and small in comparison to Spirit of Speyside and Feis Ile) but as Iain said: “it’s Campbeltown’s time and it’s beyond exciting.”

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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