The Glenlochy. Sadly now a deceased distillery, known for producing a rather uncompromising, rugged style of Highland whisky situated on the outskirts of Fort William. A town itself that harbours a sense of decay or at least, stasis.
Fort William plays host to another overlooked yet somewhat satisfying whisky in the form of Ben Nevis. Glenlochy in comparison is a brisk walk from this solitary producer and still stands – mostly – as converted residential accommodation. My visits have been explorations full of mixed emotions. Much like Linlithgow, it’s great to see some part of Scotland’s history that hasn’t been totally sacrificed on the corporate chopping block. Yet there’s still a sense of what might have been. The overpowering red bricks that make up most of the exterior of the former still area and floor maltings, just heighten the bygone age and a distillery built to last.
Glenlochy doesn’t have a huge fanbase amongst whisky enthusiasts or a widespread avenue of bottlings. Established in 1898 during the crest of a whisky boom that was soon to come crashing to an end with a crisis in confidence. I’ve often speculated what will bring this current boom-period we’re enduring to a halt. Whether it will be a slow shrinkage and culling of the weak, or more of a gigantic bang that resonates across the industry. The choice is yours and eventually it will arrive, as in Scotland we have far too many distilleries, producing a similar style of whisky and heavily reliant on the market continuing to grow. There’s only so many bottles the secondary market or investors can acquire or regurgitate via auction websites.
Meanwhile back at Glenlochy, like so many other distilleries of the period, the sudden collapse in demand was not factored into any business plan. The original owners in the form of the aptly named Glenlochy-Fort William Distillery Company, struggled on and managed to commence production in 1901 and kept things going even after putting the distillery up for sale. The advent of war closed most of the distilleries across Scotland and with the double bombshell of the Great Depression and Prohibition, several did not return.
Glenlochy refused to die however, displaying a rugged, determined style much like its whisky. The musical merry go round of owners continued until 1953 when the Distillers Company Limited acquired Train & MacIntyre, who also had names such as Glenesk, Fettercairn, Glenury Royal and disappointingly Bruichladdich on their books. Throughout its existence, Glenlochy was a small distillery with just a pair of stills. Whilst other distilleries were levelled, expanded or modernised, most of these industry ravages stayed clear of Fort William.
Thus when another whisky boom came to a shuddering end in the early 1980’s. The prospect of saving Glenlochy seemed slim. After all, this was a fairly unknown commodity, without an official bottling to call its own. This combined with extended bouts of closure throughout its existence makes any whisky from Glenlochy exceptionally rare and to be cherished.
All of this brings us to this particular bottle of Glenlochy. I initially stumbled across this bottle during the Gathering bring your own bottle event last year. There were plenty of bottles doing the rounds and Noortje enticed me towards this Signatory release. By now it was quite late – probably about 2am – and plenty of whisky had been consumed that day. Yet there was a distinctiveness to this offering even with the taint of Dutch beer still strong. And that was the end of it as I returned to our hotel near the venue whilst enjoying few drams with friends as we navigated the eerily deserted streets of Rotterdam.
Then a sample appeared recently and I just knew the bottle responsible. Such is the character of Glenlochy and its scarcity. Distilled on 4th September 1980, before being bottled on 25th June 2008 from hogshead #2823. This Signatory is bottled at 53.9% and resulted in an outturn of 231 bottles. My thanks once again to Noortje for the opportunity to explore this whisky in a more fitting environment and for the glossy photographs.
Signatory Glenlochy 1980 – review
Colour: apple peel.
On the nose: smoked lemon provides a citrus thrust with grapefruit followed by a light caramel wafer. Pear drops and candy floss provide some sweetness, almonds follow with orange sherbet. There’s a sense of a robust spirit working here with the cask. The addition of water showcases a buttery marzipan that’s quite delightful with some shredded coconut.
In the mouth: better on the palate, more refined than I was anticipating. A real vanilla freshness followed by more of those orange and grapefruit characteristics. Green apples, more almonds and meringues. The finish is chalky and flint-like. Wrapped around this voyage is a touch of smoke and a grubby sensation. Water sands down the rough exterior allowing a rich Highland toffee to step forth with pecan pie for company.
Glenlochy can be a difficult malt, displaying a style that isn’t for everyone. It’s a whisky that you need to sit down with, adjust to and then form an appreciation of. Nowadays everything is so instantaneous and easy to categorise that some whiskies are in danger of becoming boring. Some may state that we’ve never had it better and that consistency is the star attraction. I’d disagree. Give me the highs and lows, the unpredictable nature and the sense of discovery and the emotional rollercoaster that a whisky such as this can provide.