The cult of lost or closed distilleries has grown in recent years as the demand and therefore whisky value has risen. Many of these distilleries were closed for good reason, whether it was an average at best product, or for instance the cost of upgrading the facility. There are others however, such as Lochside, that deserved a better fate and the passage of time only underlined the void that their departure has created.
Lochside was situated on Scotland’s east coast, specifically on the edge of Montrose, which makes it a Highland distillery and takes its name from Mary’s Loch. This easterly region was one that was devastated by the series of cutbacks in the 1980’s following a global decline in demand for whisky and the issue of over production. The distillery managed to avoid closure until 1992 when production was halted and what remained was demolished in 2005. In relative terms, Lochside is a recent departure from the whisky scene but nevertheless a scarce commodity.
The site’s history dates back to 1781 as a brewery before it was converted into a distillery in 1957 having previously been the Deuchars’ beer brewery. This original purpose explains somewhat the unusual visual exterior of Lochside, which looked more like an institution or factory, rather than a traditional whisky distillery. The brewery was rebuilt in 1833 which is around the time it was renamed Lochside. The new buildings were designed by none other than Charles Doig who went on to design more whisky distilleries than anyone before or since. Inspired by the Bauhas designs seen in Belgium and Germany, he created Lochside’s famous tower and used the power of gravity when laying out internal brewing process within.
The man responsible for commissioning Lochside’s new purpose in 1957 was Canadian Joseph Hobbs; a very colourful character by all accounts who had a long history in the alcohol business. This stretched so far back as Prohibition, where using his fleet of vessels they delivered contraband to the west coast of America. In the late 1930’s through partnerships he had acquired interests in distilleries such as Bruichladdich, Glenlochy and Glenesk amongst others. The groundwork he had laid out was broken up by the advent of World War 2. However, history shows that Joseph was extremely adept and had already established Macnab Distilleries in the 1930’s to acquire a distillery that was never completed. Reviving this name in 1955 he purchased the Ben Nevis distillery and the following year set his sights on Montrose and Lochside.
Joseph valued his independence when it came to whisky and not having to rely on deals with rivals to provide content for his blends. To prevent any such shortages, he adopted a unique method at Ben Nevis and then Lochside, by establishing a grain and malt whisky distillery on the same site. For Lochside it spring to life as a grain distillery thanks to its Coffey still, before in 1961 2 pairs of pot stills were installed on site enabling malt whisky to be produced. This gave Hobb the necessary components to create blends and he even went so far as to marry both styles of spirit before going into the cask for maturation, his new method was dubbed blending at birth. Traditionally the blending was done post-maturation, only with a short marriage once mixed thereafter if this was deemed necessary. This accounts for a handful of Lochside independent releases that have appeared since its closure that contain both grain and malt to good effect.
With Hobb’s passing in 1964 the practice of blending at birth came to a sudden end. The distillery closed in 1971, but it was a temporary halt as by 1973 the distillery was revived by Spanish firm Destilerias Y Crianza. A growing demand for whisky in Spain had prompted the firm to seek out new stock and the quality of a Scottish spirit would enhance their own range of products including the Sandy MacNab blended whisky. For many years Lochside was shipped to Spain for its domestic market and seen little where else. Eventually in 1987, the owners realised the quality of the Lochside single malt and released a 10-year-old under the MacNab Distilleries label. This is the nearest Lochside got to an official bottling. With the Spanish company being acquired in 1992 by Allied Distillers, production of the single malt came to an end and slowly over time until 1996 the remaining warehouse stock dwindled.
In 2015 the distillery was sold to developers who eagerly demolished the distillery and removed an iconic landmark from the Montrose skyline. What exists today of Lochside remains in bottle form and hopefully some of Scotland’s independent bottlers will have the odd cask to release yet.