As Springbank’s popularity continues to grow—and with it the prices it commands at auction—we take a closer look at Local Barley, one of the distillery’s most iconic series and arguably one of the most famous series in the history of Scotch whisky altogether.
When the earliest editions of Local Barley were first released, Springbank was newly emerging from a long period of mothballing. The distillery had been closed from 1979 to 1987, just one of the many victims of the Whisky Loch overproduction crisis that hit the Scottish industry in the 1980s. When the distillery reopened, Hedley Wright—great-great-grandson of John Mitchell (Springbank has been owned by the Mitchell family since 1837)—decided it was time to focus on single malts instead of continuing to sell all of the distillery’s production to blending companies.
The Local Barley range was in part born from this approach and perhaps also in part from a desire to make the most of its older casks, which were deemed to be of a higher quality. This meant the distillery needed to work with the limited stocks resulting from its closure to design a regular and stable range.
Springbank 1966 Local Barley #478
From the West Highlands to Local Barley
The first bottling in the range (not yet known as Local Barley) was released in 1988. It was a Springbank 1967 presented in a tall bottle with the words ‘A West Highland Scotch Single Malt’ printed on the label, also decorated with charming illustrations of the distillery, its surrounding fields, a pot still, the worm condenser and the spirit receiver. These colourful, picturesque labels became an icon for both the whisky they held within and the somewhat nostalgic, storybook image they promoted. The first release was followed by four Springbank 1970 single casks bottled in 1991 and 1993 at 46% ABV, as in 1987.
During the same period, in 1990, three 1966 sherry casks were bottled in dumpy bottles (this time at cask strength). The back label stated that almost every element used to create the whisky had been sourced from within eight miles of the distillery. This enabled enthusiasts to know the origins of the water, peat, coal and, of course, the barley used to produce the malt. The only exception were the casks, which were sourced either from Kentucky for bourbon casks or from Andalusia for sherry casks. This format and bottling choices would be kept in future editions.
The second rich and more prolific period in the series was composed of the famous 1966 casks, released between 1996 and 2000 (#470 to #511). This time the label was emblazoned with the words ‘A Campbeltown Scotch Malt Whisky’, marking a certain renewed pride for the region, which had once been home to a large number of distilleries before Prohibition and the 1930s crash led the number to dwindle to just two by the 1960s (Glen Scotia being the only other in the area). This period included both bourbon casks that allowed Springbank to express its exotic spirit, and resinous, distinguished sherry casks—which are sadly no longer used. Some were made for specific markets, like the US or Taiwan. The malts were also older, with a minimum of 30 years on the clock versus just over 20 for the West Highland releases.
The 1966 vintage was followed—on this occasion only—by five casks (#6 to #10) from the previous vintage, 1965. All were released in 2001 in the same bottle and label used today, staging the distillery among its surrounding barley fields. It was also in 2001 that the series took the name Local Barley.