“You came as students, you leave as family – you will always remain part of the growing Springbank family.”
We’ve traveled around Scotland many times, and we learnt that each town, each distillery has their own unique characteristics and history. One that has always impressed us is Springbank Distillery, and thus when we received an email to confirm our participation at the Whisky School, we knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and booked our tickets!
To say the least, the Springbank Whisky School was life changing, with respect to how we now deeply appreciate every drop of whisky we savour. Never did we imagine that making Whisky was going to be so much hard work, and the sweat and tears (we’ll tell you more about that later) that are spent to achieve perfection with every single bottle.
Throughout our time at the Distillery, we got the chance to try our hand at every part of the Whisky making process from Malting, Peating the Barley, Mashing, Distillation in the Still Room, moving barrels into the Warehouse, Regauging, Bottling and of course, “Quality Control”….
Day 1 Malting
Day 1 started at 8am, with an introduction by Gavin, the distillery manager. In his direct, no-nonsense and straight to the point fashion, he told us that the distillery would be our home for the next 5 days, to get involved with any process we’d like to, and to ask lots of questions. We had a brief walk-around to get orientated with the distillery and the key production areas. Then we went immediately to the malt floor where Gavin said, “We start with malting because this is where it all begins: 2 floors of barley, one 10 tonnes and one 13 tonnes. Before I could have my morning coffee, we were faced with a mountain of 13 tonnes of Barley. This was probably the most physically demanding task, or so we thought!
2 hours later, even though it felt like forever, we had laid out all the barley on the malt floor – all 13 tonnes of malted goodness! And it felt great to complete our first task at whisky school with the help of the experts John and Roddy, and our team of 6 from all parts of the globe…
Every week of the whisky school, there is a class of 6. I felt we had the best diversity in our group with the USA, Europe and Asia well represented! In our group, there was father and son, Eric and Luke from Colorado , Markus from Germany, Adrian from Switzerland and both of us from Singapore.
What would aptly sum up the help offered by the students of the whisky school on the malt floor “many hands make light work” – Kerry
We couldn’t imagine that all the 13 tonnes we had completed would typically be done by just 2 staff when it was really exhausting work for all 8 of us!
And just when we thought we were done with all the “exercises” on the malt floors, 4 hours later, we returned to turn the barley with a hopper. This has to be done every 4 hours, even through the weekend! Sheer tough work, and it felt like we were running a marathon within the four corners of the barn, dragging a hooper along with us!
Next we were sent to the warehouse, where we met Ian and Kerry. The most important skill needed here is to “tell the time” with the barrels. What this means is rolling each barrel in so that the bung/cork faces up. One also has to dance with the barrels – a complex routine which involves orientating the barrels right/left/around to the right position of the clock, before giving them a hard kick/push/shove so they roll along the planks to the end of the row.
Here in the warehouse, our eyes feasted on some of the oldest casks the distillery had to offer. We were tasked to pull out a couple of Caol Ilas from the 1980s, and even had the opportunity to visit the famed Warehouse number 1 with some of Cadenhead’s most prized barrels.
Day 2 in the Warehouse and Bottling Hall
Tuesday is filling day for Springbank. Barrels are filled using a pump like filling at a petrol station. Kerry shouts out the volume in the barrel and we stencil this on the barrel. The volumes are recorded for tax purposes.
It was tough work in the racked warehouse but even tougher work in the dunnage warehouse where no machinery is used and barrels are simply stacked a top of one another. As Lady Luck would have it, we were tasked with retrieving the barrel tucked at the end of the first rack. This meant that we had to remove three full racks of barrels, before re-racking them all again!
We also spent some time in the bottling hall where most staff at Springbank Distillery begin their careers.
In a traditional distillery like Springbank, this is probably the most mechanised part of the entire distillery. And in most distilleries we visited, they will usually tell us that bottling is done offsite because it is simply not commercially viable…
What I admire most about Springbank, besides the really tasty whisky – is the fact that community matters much more to the owners. In a small town like Campbeltown with only 6000 people, Springbank is one of the largest employers and they want to keep the jobs of those they have employed!
For comparison, the modern distillery can run with just 2 people. Springbank employs about 50 employees!
Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this post subscribe to our mailing list so you know when Part 2 of our Springbank Whisky School adventure is out!
In the meantime if you like to read more about Sprinbank distillery, go to our distillery tour post!
One Reply to “Springbank Whisky School – Part 1”