An in-depth look at the past, present and future of the Loch Lomond Brewery.
“We actually get on really well for a husband and wife team,” laughs Fiona Maceachern, managing director of Loch Lomond Brewery, as she reflects on the business she has built with her husband Euan over the past seven years or so. “We’re the kind of couple who have always worked well together. Whether it’s doing decorating, whether it’s doing the garden, we always work as a team. And it was always something we were going to do together. And, to be honest, he does what he’s told so we’re always going to get on fine if he does what he’s told.”
What started as a hobby in a kitchen in Luss on the shores of the iconic Loch Lomond in 2008 has grown into a multi-award-winning brewery where the current CAMRA Champion Beer of Scotland is made: Silkie Stout. While the brewery has become home to a plethora of award-winners and crowd-pleasers, it’s this particular beer that perhaps best sums up the philosophy when it comes to brewing at Loch Lomond.
“We were hesitant to make a stout until we could make a really, really good stout,” Fiona explains. “So we’d do trial and trials and trials until eventually the Silkie was born and that’s when it kind of just completely changed for us. It was making sure we were making things to the best our ability with the best variety of ingredients.”
This process of experimentation, trial-and-error and innovation combined with a focus on absolute quality is what makes Loch Lomond one of Scotland’s great modern breweries, a brewery born from a passion for producing the best possible beer every time. Because, at the end of the day, it’s what they – and their friends – enjoy drinking.
In the beginning
“Looking at where we were, there wasn’t any real ale or craft ale or anything except the big boys,” says Fiona. “Only really, really well-known brands. So, we thought we’d tiptoe into it and see if it was a business we could do. So, we did a bit of investigation and, at that time there was only about 40 breweries in Scotland who were classed as microbreweries, so decided just to go for it.
“We’d had friends round who’d drank the beer and had some people who’d said ‘I’d actually buy that in the shop, it’s better than what I’m drinking in my local.’ And we were getting more and more of those kinds of remarks, it wasn’t just people being nice. So that’s when we thought, we’ll look at this properly and see if this is a business we could develop.”
Develop the business they did. Beginning by brewing the styles they had come to love, with time and experience came a flood of new and exciting recipes that has seen their range become one of the most varied and diverse in the country.
“We started with beers that we enjoyed drinking at that time, so probably entry-level beers to be honest,” Fiona explains. “We tried to do a few different styles, so we had a lighter beer, a darker beer – not a stout but a porter style – and that’s where we were at that time. We just tried to do beer that we enjoyed making and drinking.
“However, as we got better at brewing and as we got better access to hops, it opened up the recipe books in our heads where there was more choice, more variety whereby we were able to start making other styles we really enjoyed.”
The three distinct tastes of Loch Lomond
Now, the Loch Lomond range can be broken into three distinct categories which, between them, offer something for just about every palate; traditional, craft and barrel aged. Not only does each of these ranges have their own distinct array of flavours and flair but, thanks to a recent rebrand by the team over at Thirst Craft in Glasgow, they have their own unique look too.
Beginning with the traditional, this range focuses on classic styles you’d happily quaff pint after pint of at your local country pub. Fiona describes these as Loch Lomond’s “superstars.” She says: “We still have a large following of people who like a 500ml, fairly traditional style beer but they are also our biggest sellers. So something like West Highland Way and Southern Summit, which have gained so many accolades over the years, they themselves have their own following shall we say.”
As Fiona mentioned, these beers largely come in 500ml bottles that are now wrapped in stunning illustrations that highlight Scotland’s natural beauty. The designs are as classy, mature and downright beautiful as the beers contained within. However, this format and style wasn’t the right fit for Loch Lomond’s craftier creations.
“We still wanted our 500ml bottles but we’re also very aware that if you put something at seven, eight, nine percent, you don’t necessarily want to buy it in a 500ml bottle,” Fiona says. “So, our more forward-thinking beers have moved into small packaging or into cans which seem to be much more user-friendly for the type of person that’s drinking them. Also, they’re probably more in the craft style.”
The craft range of beers sees 330ml bottles and the ever-more-popular 440ml cans as the format of choice. Each vessel is emblazoned with breath-taking aerial photography from around Loch Lomond, rooting the range – which features styles and ingredients from all over the world – in the heart of Scotland. The branding is gorgeous, but the beers are something else.
Rounding things off is the barrel aged series which Fiona’s calls “our nod and wink towards the whisky world.” Simple, premium designs adorn these 330ml bottles which contain premium ales that could never be described as simple; rich and complex is far more fitting.
It is perhaps in this variety that Loch Lomond’s greatest strength lies; there really is something for everyone, which you don’t often see in a modern craft brewery. As Fiona says: “The new wave of very hop forward beers are amazing and strong part of the portfolio of our beers. However, sometimes its nice to have a nice, simple, easy-drinking beer, ale, lager that isn’t complicated, that your brain doesn’t have to think about but is just a well-made beer.
“I’d like to think that all the beers from Loch Lomond are well made. Some are more complicated that others, some are more hoppy than others, some are more malty than others. We have such a wide range that I think we should find something for every palate.”
A look to the future
With a bold new look and a range of beers as well-made as they are diverse, you couldn’t blame Loch Lomond if they were to rest on their laurels and continue doing what they’re already doing so well. But that isn’t the plan. This is only the beginning. A huge new crowdfunding campaign looks to take Loch Lomond to a new level, in a new brewery.
“The idea behind it is we’re basically bursting at the seams in our current unit,” says Fiona. “For the past couple of years we knew we weren’t going to get an awful lot longer out of our current home. So we’ve been looking for plots of land, for developers, for farm buildings. We really have put a lot of work into it in the past couple of years trying to find somewhere we can move the brewery to. We looked at industrial units, the list goes on. Whenever we’re out shopping or out with the kids, your eyes are always peeled on what’s happening, what’s getting moved, what space is there.”
Excitingly, they’ve found that space and are now in the planning stages to build their new home on the shores of Loch Lomond and cement the brewery as a key visitor attraction in the area. “We’ll be able to tours and tastings,” says Fiona. “We’ll also have a taproom and we’ll also have a restaurant. So it’s somewhere you can come spend half an hour or you can spend several hours.”
The campaign will also enable them to double capacity and bring packaging in-house, meaning the beer will be even fresher and there’ll a lot more of it. That can only be a good thing.
Though they’ve been on the scene since 2011, it really feels like 2018 is going to be Loch Lomond Brewery’s year. The rebrand has everything looking better than ever while their range now seems to have reached critical mass of variety, quality and innovation. And, as they make plans for a bold new future, this brewery from the bonnie banks has an exciting road ahead of them.