The spirits of Loch Lomond
Home to world-class golf and wonderful whisky, Loch Lomond, 24 miles from top to bottom, is the largest loch in Scotland. Despite its relative proximity to Glasgow, there is a remoteness and serenity surrounding Loch Lomond, but that was not always the case.
The Battle of Glen Fruin, fought in the bitter freeze of February 1603, was the last ever combat purely between two Scottish clans. It was a brutal clash between the defending Colquhouns and pillaging MacGregors, with much blood spilt. The dispute was over the fertile land of Glen Fruin, to the west of Loch Lomond, which was within Colquhoun territory, while the MacGregors descended from more barren, mountainous lands to the north. Outflanked and outnumbered by 400 northern attackers, the local Colquhouns suffered heavy losses but maintained control of their territory.
The Colquhoun region stretched along the south-westerly shoreline of Loch Lomond. Not just fertile land alongside Scotland’s largest loch, this was, and remains today, a landscape of awe-inspiring beauty and for the most part—when the ransacking MacGregors were in retreat anyway—a place of utter tranquility.
The village of Luss is at the heart of the Colquhoun clan lands and has been for over 600 years. The Colquhoun family built their original family home there in the 16th century, Rossdhu Castle—which counted Mary Queen of Scots among its many distinguishaed guests—and while a single ruined façade is all that remains of the castle today, the Colquhouns replaced it in the 19th century with the magnificent Rossdhu House. The family seat for many generations, Rossdhu House is now leased to the exclusive, members-only Loch Lomond Golf Club, which preserves the historic building with painstaking care. The golf course, designed by Tom Weiskopf, occupies one of the most enchanting and secluded properties in world golf, on a peninsula just to the south of the village. The club is shielded by towering woodlands to the west and by the Loch to the east, affording unforgettable views across Loch Lomond and its chain of islands.
For a while, for 15 years from 1996 to 2010, Loch Lomond Golf Club would open its electric gates to the public when it hosted the Scottish Open, which was understandably one of the tournaments most cherished by European Tour pros. While Tom Lehman was the only American winner at Loch Lomond, in 1997, Ernie Els twice lifted the trophy—a silver model of Rossdhu House—and Germany’s Martin Kaymer won there in 2009.
“Loch Lomond is a great, traditional parkland golf course,” Kaymer tells Kingdom, “with small greens and as a golfing challenge it is totally pure. I usually play better at golf courses with beautiful surroundings and at Loch Lomond it is lovely to walk down those fairways with the forests on either side. The setting creates a great golfing environment.”
Just half an hour from Glasgow airport, Luss is an ideal place to visit to get a true sense of Loch Lomond’s timeless atmosphere, whether you have a tee time or not. The Lodge at Loch Lomond is a reasonable four-star hotel at the northern end of the village, with rooms very close to the water’s edge—that are equipped with private saunas—although a more intimate experience that oozes local character and tradition can be found down Luss’s main road at the Loch Lomond Arms Hotel. Whether the day has been spent on the golf course, on the water or exploring the hills, there is no better way to finish than with a drop of a local whisky in the bar at the Loch Lomond Arms, with the warmth from its open fire very welcome on most nights, summer included.
One of the most popular whisky labels behind the bar at the Loch Lomond Arms is Loch Lomond whisky itself, which has journeyed from the Loch Lomond Distillery in the town of Alexandria, just beyond the southern tip of Loch Lomond, all of seven miles away.
Loch Lomond produces a broad range of single malts with a range of flavor profiles, a few of which are stocked at the Loch Lomond Arms, but a decent starting point—in case you are asking—would be with the beautifully crafted Loch Lomond 12 Year Old, a fresh and balanced single malt that belies its age with a real depth of flavors, and which earned Gold Medal recognition at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
“The Loch Lomond 12 is strongly representative of the distillery,” says Michael Henry, Master Blender at Loch Lomond Whiskies. “A very balanced flavour profile has some fruit coming through, some sweetness and also some peatiness.”
If Loch Lomond whisky has not been on your radar yet—despite being founded back in 1814—let this serve as a preview, as its international profile is about to boom thanks to a new role as The Spirit of The Open. That being the British Open and also the Ricoh Women’s British Open. The Open heads up to Carnoustie in July and attracts a broadcast audience of 600 million households in almost 200 countries, in addition to tens of thousands of fans at Carnoustie who will get the opportunity to sample Loch Lomond first hand.
“Loch Lomond Whiskies achieves the highest standards of excellence and was a natural choice to become a new partner of The Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open,” says Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, which organizes both championships. “We will be working closely with Loch Lomond Whiskies to introduce an inspiring range of activities which demonstrate the R&A’s shared desire to offer golf fans the very best experience at our championships.”
The distillery promises to introduce some special limited-edition whiskies specifically for The Open, which are more than likely to become instant collectors’ items.
Loch Lomond Whiskies’ current malt and grain distilleries were built in the 1960s and are among only a few in the industry to maintain an onsite cooperage. Its malt distillery also features a unique combination of traditional swan-neck and distinctive straight-necked pot stills, enabling it to produce such a diverse range of flavor profiles.
“We are extremely proud to have agreed this prestigious partnership with the R&A,” says Colin Matthews, chief executive of Loch Lomond Group. “There is an incredibly strong alignment between the worlds of whisky and golf, two of Scotland’s most iconic gifts to the world. Our partnership with the R&A is the perfect means for Loch Lomond Whiskies to grow further, both in the UK and internationally, and it demonstrates our strong commitment and ambition to becoming a premium global brand.”
If only the Loch Lomond Distillery had been established a few centuries earlier. A great single malt is best enjoyed when shared with company, with its warmth and depth arousing reflective mood. It is a glass of collaboration, not obliteration. It was just what the clan chiefs of the MacGregors and Colquhouns needed during the winter of 1603. If they had savored a few sips of Loch Lomond 12 Year Old together, sitting by the warmth of a fireplace at Rossdhu Castle perhaps, they may have discovered they had much more in common than they thought.