"Having long been possessed with an ardent desire to see the Distilleries of Scotland...", Alfred Barnard, 1885

"O Thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink", from Scotch Drink, by Robert Burns

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Glenlochy Distillery, Fort William

Glenlochy Distillery started production in April 1901 and closed for the last time in 1983 but is worth a mention here before we move on from the west coast as some of the B listed buildings still remain.  That said, little is remembered about the works now, although Philip Morrice visited it in 1985 on his centenary journey in Barnard’s footsteps, recorded in The whisky distilleries of Scotland and Ireland (Harper Publishing, 1987), so I can give you a brief overview of the distillery from his comments and some other research.

The licence was acquired in 1898 under the name of Glenlochy-Fort William Distillery Co. Ltd but the distillery wasn’t completed until April 1900 and operations started the following year.  The distillery was built on the opposite bank of the River Ness and on the other side of the railway from Nevis Distillery, about 200 metres upstream and using the river as its water supply.  Glenlochy also had its own railway siding that ran between the maltings and the distillery proper.

The distillery licence had been acquired at the height of a boom in the industry but by the time it was operational there was a slump following the crash of Pattison’s Blending house in Leith.  Glenlochy managed to keep going until 1917 but then was only operational for a further 2 years between then and 1937 when it was taken over by Joseph Hobbs through Train & MacIntyre Ltd.  They in turn were bought by DCL in 1953 and Hobbs went on to own Ben Nevis Distillery just up the road from 1955.

Glenlochy Maltings and Kiln
Morrice records that DCL gradually improved the property up until 1976 although the floor maltings closed in 1968 and they then used the large drum maltings at Ord near Inverness.  Most of the plant was replaced during this time and in 1985 Morrice noted 4 wooden washbacks at 29,000 litres each, one wash still (14,580 l) and a similar sized spirit still (14,380 l), all producing around 1 million litres p.a.  Glenlochy was never marketed as a single malt whisky when it operated but was apparently a decent blending whisky.  Some independent cask bottlings have been released since though, attracting premium prices.

Morrice notes that there was limited warehouse space at Glenlochy and casks were being stored at warehouses that once belonged to ‘Lochaber Distillery’ which had not produced for many years.  I can’t find any reference to this distillery name in any other source but I think he means the warehouses at Nevis Distillery, possibly under a different name by then, as he describes them as being on the other side of the railway track which fits with the layout on some old maps.

Even just two years after it closed Morrice noted some areas of dilapidation and poor lighting.  There was just a skeleton maintenance and warehouse staff left and he was shown round by the then Manager of Millburn Distillery in Inverness who had worked here some years before and came down to meet him.  However, he does suggest that with the improvements having been made quite recently the plant could be brought back into production very quickly.  He described Glenlochy as a pretty property in a good location for tourism and he signed off his 1985 visit with the words “it is to be hoped that this handsome SMD property will be producing again ere long”, which ironically sounds like something that Barnard would say.

Glenlochy Kiln and Pagoda, now B listed
Sadly it was not to be and by the end of following year the equipment was stripped out and the distillery left to ruin (Townsend, 1993), another casualty of the 1980s downturn.  The site was taken over by West Coast Inns Ltd in 1992 but their plans for a hotel and leisure complex were never completed and the site continued to deteriorate.  The B listing meant that any development had to maintain the old kiln building which Morrice described as its main feature with an “unusually high-pitched pagoda roof … which catches the eye of many a passing driver”.

The kiln and pagoda tower were converted into flats in 2005 by raising the wall height and reducing the roof angle so that one of the auxiliary towers is now almost fully integrated into the main structure, a second auxiliary tower being demolished.  The adjoining malt barns have also been converted into flats and the access road is named after the old distillery.  The other distillery buildings and warehouses were all demolished in the 1980s and the ground is now home to new housing.

Distillery Guest House at Glenlochy
One further building stands separate from the maltings at the entrance to the estate.  Named the Distillery Guest House this has been a private guest house for over ten years, formed from a conversion of three former distillery workers' cottages which first appear on a map from 1938.  Together with the converted maltings these buildings are a reminder of a time when for a few years there were three distilleries operating in Fort William, drawing on the natural resources of water and peat that were in abundance in the area.

A wee word of advice if you are planning a trip to Ben Nevis Distillery and arriving from the south – that pagoda roof still does catch the eye so don’t turn left off the main road when you see it on the other side of Nevis Bridge, unless you want to of course.  Ben Nevis doesn’t have a pagoda (neither the distillery nor the mountain!) and is about a mile further along the A82 and on the opposite side.  Better still, just check a map before you leave home (I know, I know, but I did get you some nice pictures!).

So, what’s next I hear you ask?  Well, as we are now fifty distilleries into Barnard’s list and he has completed his west coast travels I think it’s time for a short break from distillery reports to take a quick recap of what we have seen so far.  After a dram or two for inspiration my next post will summarise a few observations before I take you on a journey round the northwest corner of Scotland, where I may just have some scenery to keep Angus happy and provide Mitch with some more postcards. See you soon.