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The Distilleries of Campbeltown The Rise and Fall of the Whisky Capital of the World by David Stirk

The Distilleries of Campbeltown The Rise and Fall of the Whisky Capital of the World

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The Distilleries of Campbeltown The Rise and Fall of the Whisky Capital of the World by David Stirk

Campbeltown was once the whisky capital of the world with 29 distilleries operating simultaneously in 1835. How had this remote fishing port and royal burgh become the epicentre of Scotland's greatest export? David Stirk reveals all in this engaging and well illustrated insight into the people who were the movers and shakers behind this huge industry. The origins lie in illicit distilling which was prevalent all over Kintyre in the late 18th century. Many women were involved in this business which made many ordinary folk very wealthy and out of these origins, the legal trade was established in 1817 with Campbeltown Distillery being the first of many. Over the course of the next two decades every street and corner in the burgh had a distillery or brewery built on it. The names were redolent of Kintyre history and placenames: Kinloch, Caledonian, Dalaruan, Lochhead, Longrow, Meadowburn, Burnside, Kintyre, Rieclachan, Union, Argyll, Glenramskill, Highland, Springbank and Albyn, to name only some. It is no idle boast that Campbeltown was the Victorian whisky capital of the world and just as great schemes rise, so do they fall. Ultimately the town's prosperity waned with the Great War, the depression, prohibition in the USA and the failure of local coal seams. Now only Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glen Gyle remain in production, solitary reminders of the once great whisky days of this Royal Burgh.


Who hasn't heard of the comic music hall song Campbeltown Loch I Wish You Were Whisky and wondered what story lay behind these famous words? The Distilleries Of Campbeltown sets out to explain how Kintyre's main town became the whisky capital of the world;Beginning with the Gaelic-speaking clans of Irish origin, who began to colonise Kintyre during the first millennium, David Stirk relates how the town grew from small beginnings into a royal burgh which depended on the herring fishing before whisky became the main trade;He offers no compelling evidence that the Irishmen from the Glens of Antrim brought the art of distillation with them but supports a growing belief that the MacBeatha, or Beaton family, hereditary physicians to the MacDonald Lords Of The Isles, were responsible for spreading it for medicinal purposes several centuries later;If the exact date when whisky, as we know it today, was made in Campbeltown for public consumption has been lost, it is on record that a present of aquavitae (Latin - the water of life) a distilled spirit flavoured by the plant called curmei/ in Gaelic, or wild liquorice, was being sent by the 9th Earl of Argyll, who owned the whole of Kintyre, to friends as early as 1667;The beverage must have been a great success because soon farm rents in the form of spirits were being paid to the Duke by the burgesses of the town. Trading ships, encouraged by the safety of Campbeltown's sheltered loch, began to arrive from England, Ireland, the Clyde and farther afield, and soon the town boomed and its distilleries flourished;Ultimately the town's prosperity waned with the emergence of the blending trade and a preference for Speyside and Islay whiskies;The Depression, prohibition in America and the post-First World War rationalisation orchestrated by the Distillers Company who took many of the smaller distilleries out of production altogether led to its decline;This is the first in-depth work on the history of whisky distilling in Campbeltown. It is well written, well researched and accompanied by numerous unpublished photographs and a range of contemporary maps and plans showing the locations of the town's many distilleries in the mid1860s. David Stirk has skilfully drawn his information from newspapers and numerous other little-known sources;This is a reference work which ought to be read not only by whisky lovers the world over, but genealogists and local historians as well as every resident of Kintyre who can justly take pride in their area's contribution to the Scottish whisky trade;Iain Thornber, The Scots Magazine

About the Author

David Stirk was born in Ripon in 1976 and has visited most of Scotland's distilleries by his mid-twenties, He contributes to Whiksy Magazine and is the author of The Malt Whisky Guide. He worked as a brand ambassador for William Cadenhead Ltd, the independent bottlers based in Campbeltown, and now runs his own whisky-bottling concern.

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Book Info

Publication date

1st March 2017


David Stirk

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Angel's Share an imprint of Neil Wilson Publishing


232 pages


Food manufacturing & related industries
Economic history



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