Whisky history in Campbeltown

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

A photography exhibition showcasing the history and heritage of Campbeltown has been unveiled as part of the Glen Scotia Virtual Malts Festival 2021, which will welcome thousands of whisky fans from across the globe to experience a range of online tours and tastings from the distillery.

In the Victorian era, Campbeltown was the whisky capital of the world and was once known as ‘Spiritville’ or ‘Whiskyopolis’. At its peak, there were around 30 legal distilleries operating in a town with a population of only 9,000. Independent distiller Glen Scotia has been producing single malt whisky in Campbeltown since 1832. As one of the only three surviving single malt whisky distilleries located in the area today, Glen Scotia has joined forces with Document Scotland to illuminate the town's rich whisky-making legacy and heritage.

Document Scotland are a collective of three Scottish documentary photographers each sharing a vision to witness and capture the important and diverse stories Scotland has to offer. Through the partnership with Glen Scotia, photographers Sophie Gerrard, Colin McPherson and Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert have captured modern-day images of Campbeltown by exploring the themes of People, Place and Process, to tell the story of Glen Scotia and Scotland’s fifth malt-producing region.

Combined with historic photography of the distillery and the region, these captivating images from past and present are featured in an interactive online gallery to celebrate Campbeltown’s contribution to Whisky and uncover Glen Scotia’s extensive, rich history.

Iain McAlister, Master Distiller and Distillery Manager at Glen Scotia, said: “Since 1832, Glen Scotia has been shaped by the people, time and events; as well as the history of Campbeltown itself. This remarkable Document Scotland photographic exhibition brings our unique whisky history and heritage to life. Our single malt reflects centuries of craftsmanship and experience associated with the region and is renowned for its Campbeltown character.

Photographer Sophie Gerrard centred her work on the ‘People’ who could tell the story of whisky in Campbeltown. From those who work at Glen Scotia to the farmer who collects the draff to feed his cattle, and from those descended from the ‘big three’ whisky families of history to the new generation of young people making their livelihoods from whisky in Campbeltown. Using her method of environmental portraiture, she photographed these people in their homes, at the distillery, and in the hills and streets of the town, each of them connected in some way to the unique heritage of Campbeltown.

As a photographer I’m always interested in the people behind the story," explains Sophie, "and for this project, to make a series of photographic works about Glen Scotia and the unique story of whisky in Campbeltown I turned to the individuals which make this whisky so special. Each character has an individual story and a distinct connection to the past and the future of whisky in Campbeltown.”

Capturing the theme of 'Place' was photographer Colin McPherson, who sought inspiration from the connections between the town today and its past. Colin looked for remnants of the 'Whiskyopolis' boomtown of old - disused warehouses, old gates and fences, buildings - and set these in the context of modern-day Campbeltown, using intense colours and light presenting so dramatically by an Argyll winter, and the town's architecture, to make a series of images that transcend time itself.

Colin explains: "There is still a distinctive atmosphere in Campbeltown, one which evokes the past. A lot of this comes from the Glen Scotia Distillery, which is a living and breathing reminder of the town’s heritage, but one which is very important to its status today and for the future.

The final theme of 'Process' was captured by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, focusing on the daily lives of Glen Scotia employees and the patient process of distilling. His photographs illustrate the passion that goes into this craft, the immediate environment, the spirit, and the all-important casks, all of which bring unique ingredients, vital elements, and distinctive flavour to the final whiskies.

As photographers we are passionate about our craft, waiting for the right light, looking for the perfect angle and bringing years of experience to every photograph we take, even though it may only be a fleeting moment we capture," says Jeremy, "This is mirrored at Glen Scotia and we found a perfect partner in the distillery, where Iain McAlister and his team bring passion and years of experience to their craft, to create exquisite single malts. This collaboration is a meeting of minds between two teams of modern Scottish craftspeople, aware of their place in contemporary Scotland, but also of the history that has gone before them.”

Glen Scotia 25 Years Old single malt was recognised as the ‘Best in Show Whisky’ at this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition, with judges awarding it as the overall winner of the competition, and therefore the best whisky in the world in 2021. The Glen Scotia 25-Years Old is available to buy online priced at £400, though is currently out of stock. It is accompanied by an exceptional range of other whiskies from the Glen Scotia distillery, including the Glen Scotia Double Cask (46% ABV, £40), Glen Scotia 15 Years Old (46% ABV, £55) and Glen Scotia Victoriana (54.2% ABV, £65).

For further information about Glen Scotia and to view the photography exhibition, please visit: www.glenscotia.com. For other events as part of the Glen Scotia Virtual Malts Festival 2021 please visit: https://www.glenscotia.com/pages/festival

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