Although a sizeable proportion of Glenlochy still stands today, with its distinctive red bricked building now forming residential accommodation in Fort William and the surviving buildings on site having a new lease of life. It’s a distillery that we rarely hear of nowadays and or see in bottled form as the last few casks are coming to the end of their lifespan. The distillery is situated a short walk from Ben Nevis that is now the sole remaining Fort William producer of whisky.
Situated near a vital rail link, Glenlochy was able to produce and ship to market with speed and efficiency. In this region of Scotland distilleries were few and far between and Glenlochy did not enjoy a high profile existence. Established in 1898 on the crest of a whisky boom by the Glenlochy-Fort William distillery Company, production started in 1901, before the distillery is put on the market in 1913. With no immediate prospective buyers, the distillery continues to operate but without any real direction, then with the onset of the First World War, Glenlochy is closed to conserve crops.
Fortunately, a consortium steps forward to purchase the distillery in 1920 however for this period of its life, Glenlochy is blighted by a spate of closures. The economic conditions of the time following the war, the Great Depression and the advancement of Prohibition meant that from 1919 until 1937, Glenlochy was only open for 2 of these 18 years. Towards the end of its slumber in 1937 the distillery was purchased by Train & MacIntyre Limited before being transferred onto its subsidiary company, Associated Scottish Distilleries Limited, who already had Benromach, Fettercairn, Glenesk, Glenury Royal and Bruichladdich on their books. They remained in charge until 1953 when the parent group was acquired by Distillers Company Limited and Glenlochy was handed over to Scottish Malt Distillers.
A period of expansion and investment arose in 1959, which was long overdue and the whole production process was modernised, but Glenlochy still remained a relatively small producer with only 2 stills in operation and 4 washbacks. For most of its lifespan the distillery focused on providing content for the blended market, with only the independent sector showcasing it as a single malt. Today, it is only Gordon & MacPhail and Signatory who have bottled Glenlochy in recent memory and may possibly remain the only sources for future releases.
The end when arrived in 1983 was prompted the overproduction in whisky and a decline in demand. Economic factors did conspire but also it allowed corporations to trim their herds of distilleries, many of which were aging and represented inefficient plants. Unfortunately, Glenlochy was deemed to be of little significance and never having received the honour of an official single malt bottling was quickly closed. Ironically several years later the distillery did receive an official bottling as part of the Rare Malts series, with a 26-year-old expression that was distilled in 1969. Nowadays it remains one of the most overlooked of the closed distilleries and certainly one of the rarest given it was only in operation for circa 60 years. A Glenlochy whisky is often very strong and robust, an ideal Highland malt with crushed almonds and grass notes, followed by green apples and a crisp palate making for a distinctive whisky.
Once closed, the distillery site was the source of much speculation. Eventually in 1992, the hotel group West Coast Inns developed a section of the site into a hotel and there is also bed and breakfast accommodation across the form original maltings, that were eventually converted into distinctive residential apartments. If you’re visiting the Ben Nevis distillery, then it’s worth the short detour to visit the site and walk around the former maltings and office buildings with their distinctive pagodas still intact.