I recently purchased four bottles of whisky made at the Loch Lomond distillery. No one was more excited when they arrived than my children. This not because they are already drinking whisky but because Loch Lomond is the distillery whose name they know best. No, it’s not because it’s one that we’ve visited together in Scotland—I’ve still not been there. The reason is that they are big fans of Tintin comics and, as anyone who knows the series well knows, Loch Lomond is the favourite whisky of not only Captain Haddock but also Tintin’s dog Snowy. I’ve mentioned before the more-complicated-than-it-seems history of Loch Lomond and Tintin. Loch Lomond first appears in one of my favourite Tintin adventures, The Black Island, which was first serialized in 1937.
Or it appears to. When I first got into single malt whisky in a big way this seemed like a temporal anomaly to me. This because I’d learned the Loch Lomond distillery was not in fact established till the mid-60s. Looking into it on Tintin sites I discovered that in the original comics the whisky that was portrayed was in fact Johnnie Walker. When the book was being readied for translation into English in the early-mid 1960s a number of changes were made to modernize the references in the original text. A change that joined these was the replacement of the name Johnnie Walker with that of Loch Lomond. As the single volume English edition was published in 1966, right after the establishment of the distillery it seemed likely that there had been some kind of a tie-up. When I last mentioned this history in 2013 this is where I left it. It appears, however, though I have not been able to track down a definitive source for this, that the fictional re-naming was in fact a coincidence: that the Loch Lomond name that appeared in 1966 in the updated The Black Island is not in fact the actual distillery that was established a year or so prior.
But the intersections of real and fictional history don’t end there. When I was explaining this history to the boys a couple of days ago—as is normal to do with 10 and 12 yo children—one of them told me I was wrong. Why, I asked. Said the smart-ass: because the box your whisky came in says the distillery was established in 1814. I went to look and sure enough, the boxes of the official releases all indicate that the distillery has been producing whisky “Since 1814”. And this is also proclaimed on the bottle label of the new version of the Loch Lomond 12 (see the rather unambiguous claims made in the pictures to the side). So, what gives? Was I wrong to think that the distillery was only founded in the mid-1960s? Is it the case that it was in fact only restarted then? After all, a number of Scottish distilleries have gone through long periods of falling silent before being restarted—often by new owners (see, for example, the checkered history of Benromach).
My first port of call was the entry on the distillery at the archived Scotchwhisky,com (RIP). Their timeline and history for Loch Lomond begin in 1966 which is when it is described as being built. So I had not misremembered that. Next I went to the distillery’s own website. The “Our History” section there echoes this, noting that “[T]he current Loch Lomond Distillery was founded in 1965”. But this is preceded by this text:
The first site of the former Loch Lomond Distillery dates back to 1814, sited at the north end of Loch Lomond near Tarbet (known as Tarbat). Sadly in the old days relatively few paper records were kept and the closing date of this Distillery remains unclear.
The website is otherwise devoid of references to 1814 or implications of a clear line from the 1814 distillery to the one built in 1965. Indeed, it seems clear there is no such line. There was a distillery with the same name in the general vicinity—though nowhere close to the current site—that operated for a few years in the early 1800s. A new distillery with the same name was built from scratch in 1965 by people not descended from the original owners. None of this is objectionable—though it could certainly be made clearer that there is no line of descent between the first distillery named Loch Lomond and the one built in the mid-1960s. But when the labels on the boxes and bottles of the whisky now being produced at the new distillery make it out to seem that the distillery’s history is unbroken, going back to 1814, we unquestionably enter murkier waters. It is the boxes and labels, after all, that consumers look at, not websites.
Certainly history is at a premium in the whisky industry—even as age statements have become scarcer in the world of Scotch whisky, distilleries have held on to numbers that indicate having been founded long ago. No one who follows American whisky will be surprised to hear this or perhaps even find Loch Lomond’s fudging of the historical record very exceptional compared to the shenanigans that go on on so many labels that get approved in the US. And it may appear a victimless crime: is anyone really buying any whisky because of when the distillery was founded? But if that’s not part of the sell then why do it? Why say you’ve been producing whisky since 1814 when you’ve really only been doing it—off and on—since 1966? Not having paid attention to Loch Lomond packaging before this, I have no idea if this “Since 1814” nonsense has been on the boxes and labels for a long time or if it appeared after the change of ownership in the previous decade. But they should knock it off. Howsoever innocuous it may seem to some, it’s still dishonest. They make interesting whisky, they bottle it at a good strength, and sell it at a good price. That should be enough.
If for no other reason, do it for Captain Haddock: he was an honest man, even if he did drink too much.
It’s almost a shame because the real history of Loch Lomond seems far more fascinating to me than any imagined past. A site so dedicated to keeping everything in house that they’ve amassed one of the most unique collection of stills in Scotland and defied the SWA to make the only silent malt in the county.
Say more about that “silent malt” bit.
Column distilled malt whisky, similar to Nikka Coffey Malt. Because of SWA regs it can’t be labeled as malt whisky (which has to be distilled in a pot still), but since it’s primarily destined for their blends they don’t particularly care. I believe there are also suggestions that their Single Grain release is all or primarily this column distilled malt.
I find it fun that they can make a ‘single blend’…if that’s a thing. Grain and malt from the same distillery.
Lovely write-up MAO! Whisky history + comics + a healthy dose of righteous cynicism = what’s not to love?
These children are something else. I had a Loch Lomond 12yo on my cabinet back in December, as I read The Black Isle with my daughter, and she noticed the connection right away when we got to the train cars page.
The 2015 edition of Inchmurrin 12yo (post disco cows, peak Inchmurrin in my book, before the current one where they restarted adding caramel) does not mention 1814. They changed owners since then, possibly more than once (I am not keeping up). The statement that “Since 1814 Loch Lomond distillery has been distilling and crafting the finest single malt whisky” is beyond brazen and most likely illegal.
here is a little write-up I once did on the distillery. No claim to accuracy or historical facts. All translation errors are mine.
The reference on the label of the Loch Lomond bottlings to a family tradition of over 190 years refers to the Bulloch family. Alexander (Sandy) Bulloch was the last manager of Loch Lomond Distillery, which was founded by the Americans.
When you hear Loch Lomond peated, you can’t help but think: Yes, but which one? While Loch Lomond Distillery states on their homepage that they make 8 different single malts, nine are known by name, including a whiskey internally known as Loch Lomond peated. The number 11 has now appeared, but no other names.
But there are also the also peated Inchmoan, Inchfad, Croftengea and Craiglodge.
Loch Lomond Distillery says it is a peated Single Highland Malt Scotch Whiskey, one of the finest single malts made in the Scottish Highlands. And that in the traditional way with malted barley, dried with peat and then filled in the best oak casks and matured in their own warehouses, reminding you of how malts once tasted. The whole thing takes place on the Banks of Loch Lomond, on the banks of Loch Lomond. Well, quite … But what is common to all “new” Lomond malts is their great fruitiness, even with extreme peat. Responsible for this are the straight neck pot stills, which do not have a low lyne content, and the fact that it is distilled with a very high alcohol content of 83-85% ABV, which gives it strong fruity notes with a long fermentation time.
“Loch Lomond Distillery. Where the proud mountains of the Northern and Western Highlands meet is the famous Loch Lomond, which is framed by a dramatically beautiful mountain backdrop. The beauty of Scotland’s largest lake has inspired numerous storytellers and musicians over the centuries, and even today one cannot escape the myth of Loch Lomond. The Loch Lomond Distillery, founded in 1814, is located on the south side of Loch Lomond Lake, in the small town of Alexandria. For generations, an unmistakable Highland malt has been produced in the distillery, which is still family-owned today, with great dedication and experience. ”
In the middle of the last century, this highland malt found its way into the “Tintin” comics by Belgian author Hergé, which are currently being filmed by directors and producers Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. In the comics, one of the main characters, Captain Haddock, is very fond of Loch Lomond whiskey. ”
To be honest, the truth of the matter is low. Today’s Loch Lomond distillery in Alexandria is not located directly on Loch Lomond and was created in 1965 by the American parent company Publicker by converting an existing paint factory. The first malt whisky here ran out of stills in 1966.
The first Loch Lomond distillery, probably founded in 1814, was in Arrochar, at the other end of lake Loch Lomond from 1814-1817. 1817! It is true that in the Tintin Comics, Loch Lomond Scotch is Captain Haddock’s favorite drink. But since cars are already used in these comics, this Loch Lomond Scotch must have been stone old by the time the last one was made in 1817.
Publicker Industries Ltd, USA founds Inver House Distillers Ltd. in 1964 in order to represent their whiskey interests in Scotland. 1964 Glenflagler and Killyloch were established in the grain distillery Garnheath, also called Moffat, which also belongs to Publicker at that time.
From 1965 on the conversion and establishment of today’s Loch Lomond distillery took place. Bladnoch was bought in 1973.
Publicker chairman Mr S. S. Neuman passed away some years later and in January 1988 and thereafter there was a management buyout. Today Inver House belongs to Thai Beverages, since 2001. Loch Lomond belonged to Sandy Bulloch’s Glen Catrine – or vice versa.
The Bulloch family has been involved in whiskey since 1842 when Gabriel Bulloch and J. H. Dewar founded a whiskey wholesaler in Glasgow. The Bullochs were active in the whiskey business until the 1940s. Sandy and his sister Irene Bulloch lost their father at an early age and consequently had to help their mother in the family shop in Glasgow. Back then, it was still very common that the family bought barrels of whiskey, brandy and rum and bottled them themselves in their cellar.
Sandy Bulloch began buying the first unripened whiskeys and storing them. A small but decisive step. Little by little, one Bulloch branch after another opened up in Scotland. At the same time, a wholesale company was set up to supply the chain of shops with wines, spirits and beers. The result is one of the largest independent wholesalers in Scotland. A. Bulloch & Co. developed their own brands with whiskey, gin and vodka and thus established another important line of business. With the success it was inevitable that a bottling plant of their own became necessary, which has developed into one of the largest independent bottlers in Scotland.
From 1985 A. Bulloch & Co was a major player in the whiskey trade. But for well-known reasons, it was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain sufficient quantities of whiskey for private labels. In 1985 a malt distillery, the Loch Lomond Distillery Co. Ltd., was bought. The next step was to secure sufficient grain stocks for blends. In 1993 patent stills were set up at Loch Lomond.
The distillery is in the Lowlands, at least on the Highland Line, the water comes from wells on the property, not from the Loch Lomond to the east.
There are 9 well-known malts being produced in Loch Lomond: Loch Lomond, Inchmurrin, Old Rosdhu, Craiglodge, Croftengea, Glen Douglas, Inchmoan, Inchfad and Loch Lomond HP.
Founded in 1965 by the Littlemill Distillery Company, or Publicker it is now owned by Glen Catrine, and Glen Catrine bonded Warehousees through Loch Lomond Distillers.
The 4 stills in Loch Lomond are unusual. Pot still in the lower area, on top there is a condenser column that can control the reflux and thus change the firing result, the new make. There are two pairs of stills of this kind, which contain 14 plates similar to the Lomond stills in the rectifying columns. The 9 malts differ in their peat content and the fact that the distillate is taken from the other plates of the rectifier.
The elderly Sandy Bulloch finally sold his company with the Loch Lomond distillery, Glen Scotia and Glen Catrine as well as the warehouses and blending plants to the private equity group Exponent. There was probably no successor in the family.
The million $ deal from March 2014 is not as crazy as it sounds. Exponent has a majority stake in the new Loch Lomond Group, whose executive team was led by Colin Matthews to carry out the management buy-in. Exponent, owner of Quorn Food, has appointed former Diageo chief financial officer Nick Rose as chairman and also assigned an important role to Richard Miles, former chief financial officer at Diageo’s global supply business.
In addition to the Loch Lomond Distillery in Alexandria and the Glen Scotia malt distillery in Campbeltown, the package also includes Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse in Mauchline, one of the largest independent bottling facilities in Scotland where the High Commissioner blend and Glen’s Vodka are made. In addition, it has its own cooperage. Glen Catrin also bottles whiskey, vodka, gin, rum and brandy for international markets and private labels. The new owners have tidied up the whiskey range for the first time.
In June 2019 it was announced that Exponent had sold Loch Lomond Group to a Hong Kong-based fund, Hillhouse Capital Group. There was talk of around £ 400 million. In 2014, the then owner of the Bulloch family got £ 210 million, it is reported. Exponent Private Equity quickly expanded the Lomond brands into international export markets, raising another £ 25 million.
At that time around 10% of sales came from exports, today it is 70% and this is mainly in Asia.
Loch Lomond’s chairman is former Diageo finance chief Nick Rose, and chief executive is Colin Matthews, previously a senior executive at Imperial Tobacco. Both will hold a stake in the Lomond Group even after the sale.
Still, it sounds strange to the ears when you hear Mr Matthews say: “Over the past five years we are proud to have transformed The Loch Lomond Group into a premium international spirits business with a strong focus on innovation and a portfolio of award-winning brands .
“We believe now is the right time to move forward into the next stage of our growth strategy as we look to innovate further, extend our portfolio of brands and continue to expand our international presence, particularly in Asia where Hillhouse has significant experience.”
Loch Lomond and Premium, these are crazy times. Or how hollow is the term premium.
Apparently the last owner decided to clean up the variety of malts made with different peat levels and in different stills. At the moment (June 2020) only the Loch Lomond, the Inmurrin and the Inchmoan product lines seem to be followed at the single malts. There are increasing signs that the malts Ichmoan, Inchfad, Croftengea as well as Inchmurrin are all being discontinued in favor of a uniform brand identity under the name Loch Lomond.
The Inchfad, which existed as unpeated, lightly peated and heavily peated, has also been discontinued.
Thanks very much for this. A lot of interesting information here.
Very interesting! I stumbled upon Loch Lomand in a well-loved Fargo liquor store (Happy Harry’s) a couple of years ago. Intrigued–my housemate grew up in Balloch, just north of Alexandria, on the southern tip of the loch–and drawn in by a very reasonable price point, I bought a bottle. It’s a “Tuesday night whisky”–not stellar, but good enough. I’d done a bit of poking around online to find the backstory of the distillery; the news of the sale to the Hong Kong Hillhouse was news to me–thanks, kallaskander! (The sale likely happened just after I’d done my interwebz research.)