The reopened Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery is the first Scottish distillery to open in the third millennium and the first distillery to open in Scotland’s Campbeltown region in over 100 years. There are a mere three distilleries there, and together they represent one of Scotland’s six official whisky regions.
Back in the day however, Campbeltown was known as the whisky capital of the world with 34 distilleries operating in and around the town. Despite being on the mainland, Campbeltown’s location at the end of the Kintyre Peninsula means its closest whisky neighbours are actually on nearby Arran and Islay, but it outperformed them both. While the region’s fame endured the entire 1800s, distillery numbers were decimated around the turn of that century thanks to a combination of factors such as improved transportation links to distilleries in Speyside and a decline in quality. This was further compounded by a decline in consumption through the First World War and prohibition in the US, and by 1934 only Springbank and Glen Scotia were still operating in Campbeltown – a far cry from its heyday.
Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery was established in 1872 by William Mitchell. The Mitchells were the dominant force in Campbeltown’s distilling community during the 19th century, owning a number of distilleries, largely down to the fact that they were a fiery bunch that just couldn’t get along with one another so various members kept breaking off to start their own operations. William was the son of Archibald Mitchell, the founder of nearby Springbank Distillery, and in the second half of the 1800s William ran Springbank Distillery in partnership with his brother John. The family were both distillers and farmers, as was common at the time, and the boys had a quarrel over some sheep which saw William leave Springbank to join his other brothers at Reichlachan distillery before starting up his own venture, Glengyle, just down the road from Springbank. This was in 1872 and like the majority of Campbeltown distilleries, Glengyle suffered greatly during the economic downturn at the beginning of the 20th century. It was bought by West Highland Malt Distilleries Ltd in 1919 then sold again in 1924 for the princely sum of £300, before production finally ceased altogether in 1925.
Despite not producing any more spirit, the distillery buildings remained in relatively constant use right up to modern days, housing a rifle club and later a farmers’ co-op. This meant it stayed the best preserved of all the former Campbeltown distilleries and so made for a very attractive distillery acquisition, with a number of attempts made to re-open Glengyle Distillery in the past. The first was in 1941when it was bought by the Bloch Brothers, then owners of nearby Glen Scotia Distillery, who planned to rebuild and extend Glengyle. Then came the war however and nothing came of the plans. A further attempt was made in 1957 when Campbell Henderson applied for planning permission for a £250,000 modernisation of Glengyle in order to re-open it, but again nothing came of it. Third time lucky for whisky lovers everywhere though because in November 2000, 75 years after Glengyle had last produced spirit, it was announced that the buildings had been bought by Hedley Wright from J&A Mitchell and Co Ltd (owners of Springbank), the great-great nephew of William Mitchell. Springbank had managed to remain in the same family all along and today, along with Glenfiddich and Glenfarclas is one of the few remaining original family distilleries in Scotland. So, almost 150 years after it was established as a result of a family tiff, the ‘new’ Glengyle has come back into the family as a beacon of hope and prosperity for the future of Campbeltown whiskies.