Distillery - Production Staff
John is our longest serving member of staff, having worked for Springbank for approaching 3 decades. He spoke to us about the changes he has seen over the years, the differences between Springbank and Glengyle and what day-to-day life is like working at a distillery that makes whisky the traditional way.
You’ve been working at Springbank for quite a long time, John, when did you start and what job did you have back then?
I started in September… (John pauses to think of the year) 1989 in the bottling hall as a forklift driver keeping the bottling hall supplied with dry goods, bottles and boxes. When I started the still and the maltings weren’t working, it was “mothballed,” if you like, and the job I had in the bottling hall was permanent. There was talk of things starting again on the production side but it wouldn’t really be a permanent job. I was there for a number of years, can’t quite remember how many, and then I progressed over here (to production) and I’ve been here ever since.
The bottling hall itself has changed massively over the years; in recent times the new, automated line has come in but you will have seen many more changes than that.
Oh, yeh, it has changed beyond all recognition. At one time everything was hand labelled and dried with a small blow heater. That was the way it was done. I think there was maybe about half a dozen people then too. I think it’s good to see so many people employed, especially in Campbeltown. Local people.
Bringing our talk to the present day and the job you are doing now, what have we dragged you away from?
Grubbing the floor just before we started talking. I’ve been on since 6 o’clock this morning (it’s now around 11am) and we have been emptying the back half of the kiln and doing the tidying up. We’ll turn the floor again before we’re done this afternoon. The maltings is quite demanding but more so in the summer when the temperatures are higher. You’ve got to work the floors a bit more frequently then. The winter is a bit better, the temperatures are probably more manageable. Barley, when it’s germinating, creates its own heat so in the summer the inside of the building gets warmer and the only way we can really cool it down is to open the windows. We now have fans in place, small fans, but the temperatures can get quite high in the summer so when the temperatures get higher we have to turn the floor more frequently.
Do you think the quality of spirit is directly related to the fact we continue to make it in such a traditional manner?
Aye (yes), it probably is. With the spirit that we produce, as a distillery worker, you’re involved from the actual unloading of the barley, turning the barley into grain, mashing, distillation and warehousing. So you are touching the barley as soon as it comes in, through to malt and through to distillation right into the cask.
What do visitors see when they come for a tour and what kind of impression do you think they leave with?
Hopefully, they get a good impression of Springbank and really see how things were done traditionally years and years ago. A lot of distilleries now are more automated and produce a lot of spirit whereas we have just ticked along, produced a high quality spirit that is well known throughout the world.
People can see something here that they couldn’t see at other distilleries, can’t they?
The tours seem to be closer to the actual working of the distillery and people are really seeing what happens on a day-to-day basis, if they are lucky enough when they go in they might see a mash or maybe someone turning the floor, grubbing the floor. But they will see various parts of the distillery when it is working.
Probably the biggest change that has taken place during your time here is Mitchell’s Glengyle starting production. How has that affected your job?
Glengyle in itself was a whole new learning curve. It’s a far more modern distillery and slightly more automated than Springbank. Everything really is on one level, which took a wee while to get used to it. Glengyle is a nice distillery, makes a good whisky! The technology in Glengyle means (working there) is slightly easier for the staff on the mashing side of things than what it is in Springbank. Springbank really is a working museum, probably, especially the production of the malt and the whisky but it’s traditional and has its own character which you don’t want to lose.
What kind of changes do you think will come in the future?
Hopefully not a lot in the way we actually manufacture the whisky. Hopefully not too much changes. I don’t think we will ever do away with the maltings. Obviously, with the still house we’ll try to keep it original as possible I should imagine.
And lastly, everyone who works here joined after you, what is the first thing news employees have to learn?
Just to keep up the way we have always done it, thats the most important things to impress on them. And to take pride in what they are doing.