Historical Whisky Legends – Sir Rob Hamilton Bruce Lockhart

Historical Whisky Legends – Sir Rob Hamilton Bruce Lockhart


In this new series, we look at the life and times of some of the great famous, and infamous characters in the history of Scotch whisky. We also talk a little about the distillery they are most closely associated with and the whisky itself. This week’s focus is on Sir Robert Hamilton Bruce Lockhart and Balmenach distillery.

Calling Sir Robert a ‘legend’ is actually selling him somewhat short. He was at various times in his life a diplomat, a journalist, an MI6 spy, a best-selling novelist, and a professional footballer. Besides this, he still found the time to write one of the greatest whisky books of all time – Scotch: The Whisky of Scotland in Fact and Story (1951). His great-grandfather James Macgregor founded the Balmenach distillery in 1897 and it was always a place close to his heart. 


The Early Years – Subterfuge, Plots, and Intrigue

Born into an upper-middle-class family in Fife he attended the famous private boarding school Fettes in Edinburgh. His younger brother joined the military and eventually became the last commanding general of the British Army in India. However, the regimented life was not for him, and at age 21 he went out to Malaya to work on his uncle’s rubber plantation. Falling in love with the beautiful daughter of a local prince wasn’t the smartest move and three years later he had to be smuggled out of the country, desperately ill, with rumours circulating that he had in fact been poisoned.

After recovering, he next joined the British Foreign Service and was posted to Moscow in 1912. By the time of the revolution in 1917, he had risen to the senior position of Consul-General. After the communists had taken control in 1918, he started work for MI6 at the behest of British PM Lloyd George. He then became heavily involved in much subterfuge, plots, and intrigue. His mistress was the famous suspected Russian double agent Moura Budberg, and in the middle of all the chaos and purges, Lockhart was arrested for trying to assassinate none other than Lenin himself.

Things certainly looked very bleak for a while as he was sentenced to death. However, lady luck fortuitously stepped in, and he was exchanged for a valuable Russian spy. The popular 80s TV show ‘Reilly Ace of Spies’ was partly based on his exploits! The book ‘Ace of Spies’ was written by his son.


Diary of a Londoner

After his escape from Moscow, a career in the banking sector followed before boredom crept in and Lockhart started working as a journalist for London’s Evening Standard. Writing the ‘Londoners Diary’ column seemed to consist of him living a life of complete drunken debauchery and then sharing it the next day with the paper’s readers. World War II saw Lockhart moving into a new field, this time working for the Political Warfare Executive, whose main aim was the promotion of propaganda to damage the enemy’s morale.

In the Post-war era, he was able to focus on his final career as an author having numerous novels and biographies published. One of his true passions in life was Scotch whisky and by his own account, he imbibed far too much of it during his life. His book on Scotch whisky took him to the four corners of his homeland, visiting every distillery and documenting their operation and their historical journey to the then-present day. Lockhart saved his finest prose for describing his beloved Balmenach distillery and his family’s involvement in its creation and running of the operation.

Balmenach distillery

A Short Summary of Balmenach Distillery 

Balmenach distillery whisky is regularly described as an ‘old school’ whisky. In terms of style, it is a very close cousin to fellow Speysiders, Mortlach and Benrinnes, in that it is full-bodied, rich, and meaty. This malt is so highly-prized by the blenders that owners Inver House haven’t released any official bottlings in their 24 years of ownership. For single malt enthusiasts, their only option is to find one of the relatively rare Independent Bottlings available. This now unusual style is created from long fermentation, with small stills that run quickly with the vapour condensing in the old traditional worm tubs. The result is a slow-maturing new-make that adds real character and substance to blends. 

Fermentation is 56 to 100 hours with three pairs of stills operating and a production capacity of 2.9 million litres. We completely understand Lockhart’s love and fascination with this wonderful distillery. To this day there are still many single malts that haven’t been marketed and promoted heavily because their current commercial value lies in being the foundation and heart of various blended whisky brands. The quality of the whisky they produce though is very high. Balmenach is a sleeping giant which is certainly undervalued right now.

What is the potential for growth?

This old-fashioned single malt is one of Speyside’s hidden gems. Our 2011 casks are exceptionally healthy, having been regauged this year, so would work equally well for a short, medium or long-term hold.

There is clearly a demand for the liquid with reputable independent bottlers like Cadenhead’s, Signatory, Douglas Laing, and That Boutique-y Whisky Company bottling single casks ranging from eight years old to 28 years old. Balmenach has a growing audience and its value will only increase in time as the whisky matures and increases in rarity.

To find out more about purchasing Scotch Whisky casks, contact the Masters today.

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Balmenach Distillery Focus

Balmenach Distillery Focus


Balmenach Distillery (Translation – The Middle Farm) lies in the southern part of Speyside in a remote location inside the Cairngorm National Park. If you find this distillery by accident, then it’s safe to say that you are lost! First opened in 1824, it is remarkable that with nearly 200 years of history, there have been virtually no bottlings from this distillery and outside of the whisky enthusiast world, nobody has ever heard of it.

This begs the question, why? The answer is in fact very simple and quite obvious – Balmenach is one of the most sought-after Single Malts for the blending houses. These types of rare malts are known as top dressing malts and they will lift the flavour in virtually any blend you add them to. Blended whisky still accounts for over 85% of the global market and while this is still the case, it’s hard to envisage much of this wonderful whisky ever becoming available. 

The production consists of a very long fermentation using small stills and a worm tub condenser. This is a very ‘old school’ style of whisky making, which produces a very meaty style, similar to Mortlach and Benrinnes. Since 2001, ownership has been in the hands of Inver House, which has only launched several very limited-edition 27-year & 28-year-olds. 

For investors, this is a distillery that will offer you great exit strategy opportunities. Firstly, the whisky ages very well, especially in sherry casks. Combined with the rarity of any kind of official bottlings means that the Independent Bottlers will be very interested when you decide to sell. The demand for these casks is high and the supply is low, therefore basic market forces will make this a very savvy investment indeed. 

 Fact File

Name:  Balmenach 

Founded: 1824 

Region: Speyside 

Owners: Inver House 

Capacity: 2.8m litres 

Stills: 6 

Fermentation: 56 – 90 hours 

Peated/Unpeated: Unpeated 

Casks Used: Bourbon & Sherry 

Current Sales: N/A 

Recent significant awards: Non entered 

Independent bottlings: Around 500 

Core Range: N/A

We have 2011 Balmenach Hogsheads on our current stock list. To find out more about investing in Balmenach Distillery casks, contact The Masters today!