Silent Distillery Profile; Lochside – Scotch Whisky History

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Photo Archive Compliments of Mark Davidson

Silent Distillery Profile; Lochside 

Operational: 1957[1]

Closed: In 1996. Silent in April 1992, dismantled in 1997 however the warehouses survived until 1999 when they were demolished.

Region: Eastern Highlands

Operational Owner: 1957 MacNab Distillers Ltd.

Current Owner: Muir Homes (as of 2005)

Address: Brechin Road, Montrose, Angus, DD10 9AD 

In 1957 Lochside Distillery was converted from an old Deuchars Brewery at Montrose by Joseph Hobbs (MacNab Distillers) and was initially fitted with one patent still and later four pots stills. The name of Joseph Hobbs is generally associated with Ben Nevis Distillery in FortWilliam but his name is also associated with many distilleries around Scotland. In 1931 Hobbs returned from Canada after losing a great deal of money in the depression of the time and commenced the buying up malt distilleries. In 1937 he bought Bruichladdich distillery on Islay from Harvey family, so ending that family’s long connection with the industry. In association with Train & McIntyre, a Glasgow firm of wine and spirit merchants owned by National Distillers of America, he purchased Glenury Royal Distillery in 1936, Glenkinchie Distillery in 1937 and North Esk Distillery (also known as Highland Esk, Montrose, Glenesk and Hillside Distillery) in 1938. The distilleries were transferred to a wholly owned subsidiary of Train & McIntyre, Associated Scottish Distillers Ltd. and Train & MacIntyre brought the Strathdee distillery, Aberdeen into the group, and added Fettercairn and Benromach in 1938. The conversion of North Esk into Montrose Grain Distillery made the group fully integrated.  Hobbs re-equipped North Esk distillery to produce grain whisky and renamed it Montrose Distillery (in 1954 they sold it to the Distillers Company Limited who then transferred it to Scottish Malt Distillers in 1964 who converted it back to a malt distillery).   

The convoluted world of the whisky business. 

James Deuchars were the producers of Newcastle Brown Ale and the Montrose brewery was originally built in the 1760’s and operated as a brewery until the 1950’s. James Deuchar purchased the brewery in 1833 and Charles Doig, the famous distillery architect, designed some of the newer brewery buildings in the style of breweries in Germany & Belgium. The tower, in the Bauhaus design style, housed equipment to start the brewing process and the finished beer was housed on the lowest floor. The finished beer was sold in pubs in the Tyneside markets in Newcastle. “Beeries”, the ships used to transport the beer to the Newcastle area, were loaded at the Montrose docks and this practice continued until 1956. That year Scottish & Newcastle Breweries bought Lochside and shut it down moving all operations to Edinburgh. In 1957, Joseph Hobbs through MacNab Distillers bought Lochside with an eye towards its potential to produce grain whisky and this it did until 1961. When the much larger Invergordon grain distillery was built Joseph Hobbs realized that Lochside could not effectively compete against such a large rival so he had some of the brewing equipment converted to four Pot Stills and thus Lochside produced both grain and malt whisky. Further, Hobbs had these two whiskies ‘blended at birth’ (a practice he also used at Ben Nevis Distillery) where both grain and malt whisky are married together and then put into the cask for maturation.[2]  The whisky produced at Lochside contributed to the blend, Sandy MacNab’s. The Coffey still was 67 feet tall and was mothballed in 1970 after the founder, Joseph Hobbs who died in 1964. However the mothballed Coffey still was not removed until later.[3] Unusually the distillery had a bottling plant on site. 

Hobbs named his company MacNab Distilleries Ltd after John MacNab, the owner of Glenmavis Distillery at Bathgate (to the west of Edinburgh) from whom Hobbs had purchased MacNab’s brand names. From 1855 until its closure in 1910 Glenmavis used a Coffey still to make malt whisky and this unusual set up piqued Hobbs’s interest. This seems to have been the impetuous for Hobbs to install Coffey stills at Lochside and Ben Nevis.[4] 

In 1971 the distillery was closed and remained so for two years until it was bought by a Spanish company, Destilerias Y Crianza Del Whisky, abbreviated to DYC pronounced DEEK. DYC bought Lochside in order to improve the quality of the Spanish blends by using Scottish malt whisky in their own blends. The vast majority of the whisky produced at Lochside was shipped to Spain in bulk until 1996 when the last of the mature whisky left the distillery warehouse. At the same time blended whisky was bottled on site and later the owners decided to bottle their own single malt in the form of a 10 year old Lochside malt which was described as having ‘a subtle and delicate nose with a hint of peat. The flavours included a vanilla sweetness with echoes of the peat, initially found in the nosing.’

Due to the success of the whisky (high sales) the company became part of Allied Distillers in 1992. Production of Lochside single malt ended in June of the same year, and the remaining cases of whisky were then sold until all stocks were depleted in 1996. At that time the distillery was closed and the remaining staff were made redundant. 

The distillery had one cast iron mash tun and nine stainless steel washbacks. Both the mash tun and wash-backs were without covers . The stills were very similarly designed with lyne arms that have a slight downward angle, and somewhat tall thin necks that form the traditional onion shape where it joins the shoulders of the stills. The spirit was then aged in bourbon casks.

The local area from early times was known as “Clayshades” which refers to the clay area to the south and west of the distillery. At some point before 1830 the  brewery was referred to as ‘Lochside’ on land title/deed documents. [5] 

The name Lochside derives from the distillery standing beside a small loch (Mary’s Loch) which was used to provide water for production but this later dried out. The subsequent water source was an artesian well beneath the distillery supplying hard water.[6]  The risk of drawing up saline water, due to the proximity to the sea, must have been high.[7]

‘The saddest part of the story is that Lochside was an outstanding whisky. Since much of the distillery production went into blends or was exported for sale in Spain, few lovers of whisky had an opportunity to sample Lochside and it never established a reputation as a single malt.’[8]

The last manager was named Charles Sharpe and Elizabeth Riley Bell interviewed him for her article which appears in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society archives. 

The site is now completely void of distillery buildings and warehouses.

[1] The Scotch Whisky Industry Record by H Charles Craig indicates a date of 1958. The Making of Scotch Whisky Moss & Hume indicates a date of 1957.

[2] Elizabeth Riley Bell-SMWS Archives

[3] Malt Whisky, A Taste of Scotland by Graham Moore

[4] Malt Whisky, A Taste of Scotland by Graham Moore

[5] Elizabeth Riley Bell-SMWS Archives

[6] Misako Udo-The Scottish Whisky Distilleries

[7] Whisky on the Rocks-Origins of the Water of Life, Stephen & Julie Cribb

[8] I cannot place this quote from my reference library, apologies to the author!

This article was originally published on the Malt Maniacs and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

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