Lochside no more

In the first of a new series Gavin D. Smithgoes in search of whisky's lost heritage
By Gavin D. Smith
The Scotch whisky industry has always been prone to periods of ‘boom’ and ‘bust.’ During the boom times new distilleries have been constructed, while bust has inevitably meant plant closures.The luckiest of the distilleries which fall silent are later resurrected, and in recent years these have included BenRiach, Bruichladdich and Tullibardine. However, many have been demolished to make way for retail or residential developments, and live on only in photographs, written records, and the occasional collectable bottle of malt.One of those truly lost distilleries in Lochside, which boasts a very individual history and until 2005 stood on the outskirts of the east coast port of Montrose, where its distinctive cream-washed stone-built ‘tower’ was a landmark for miles around.Lochside was one of Scotland’s most visually interesting distilleries, being based in a converted 1890s ‘Brauhaus’ style brewery.A number of notable Scottish distilleries such as Glenmorangie, Glen Moray and Tullibardine had their origins in brewing operations, but the Victorian Lochside distillery functioned as a brewery for all but the last 36 years of its working life.A brewery had been established on the Lochside site in 1781, and was subsequently rebuilt in the late 19th century to the design of the great Elgin distillery architect Charles Doig. In 1926 it was purchased by Tynesidebased James Deuchar Ltd, and for many years, the brewery’s own boat transported Newcastle Brown Ale by sea from Lochside to the Tyne twice a week. Indeed, Lochside had the distinction of being the only facility, apart from the Tyne Brewery in Newcastle, to make Newcastle Brown Ale.In 1956 James Deuchar Ltd was purchased by Newcastle Breweries Ltd, and the Tyneside company promptly closed Lochside due to excess brewing capacity. Following its closure, Lochside was acquired and converted to a distillery by the colourful entrepreneur Joseph Hobbs, through his company Macnab Distilleries Ltd. At that time Hobbs also owned Ben Nevis distillery, which operated a Coffey still as well as pot stills, and he proceeded to install four pot stills and a 67- feet-high Coffey column at Lochside to allow both malt and grain production there too.Lochside was one of the very few Scottish distilleries which undertook both malt and grain spirit production, along with on-site blending and bottling. The principal blend to be produced at Lochside was the highly regarded Sandy Macnab, most of which was sold in export markets.Hobbs died in 1964 and his son, also Joe, spent much of the next decade trying to find a buyer for Lochside, finally passing it on to Destilerias y Crianza of Spain in 1973. It required a good quality Scottish malt to vat with its own, domestically-produced whisky, and the subsequent blend of Scotch malt and Spanish whisky was sold under the DYC banner. Grain spirit production ceased at that time, but the blending and bottling facilities continued to be used.Aseries of takeovers during the 1980s and early 90s brought DYC and Lochside into the Allied Domecq camp. Allied found itself with an embarrassment of riches in terms of distilleries, and Lochside was deemed expendable, just as it had been in its later brewing days.Production ended in the spring of 1992, after which stocks were either sold off locally or shipped to Spain, before the distillery finally closed its doors for the last time in 1996.Last man out was manager Charles Sharpe.Remarkably, the historic and rare tower brewery construction did not have ‘listed’ status, and despite a spirited campaign by conservation bodies, permission was granted to demolish Lochside, and during 2005 the site was cleared and redeveloped for residential use.Today, it is as though Lochside distillery never existed, though happily some of the whisky itself survives, most notably in a 1991 bottling from Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseur’s Choice range. At under £30, this represents an inexpensive opportunity to sample this attractive, complex malt for yourself, but inevitably, stocks are finite, so perhaps this is also the time to lay down a few bottles for the future.