You see the posters at airports all around the world: Loch Lomond Whiskies – The Spirit of the Open. The Scottish whisky company’s campaign for Royal St George’s is now on hold, though they are producing a special whisky labelled, "Be there in Spirit Edition." Verily, a collector’s item in the making, and one which always will prompt thoughts of a summer we can never forget.
For now, Colin Matthews (the company’s CEO) and his team are up to their elbows in virus-combatting hand sanitiser after embarking on a project which has less to do with the “Spirit of the Open” than the spirit of the nation.
Everyone accepts that Loch Lomond Whiskies were the first of the world’s distilleries to go down the hand sanitiser route and last week, as the company was sending out one more batch of free bottles to the more vulnerable members of Scottish society, Matthews told how it all came about.
Early this year he had been visiting his mother, Eileen, in Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth hospital at a time when not too many in the UK believed COVID-19 would be escaping China. (His mother’s hospital stay was wholly unrelated.)
However, since there were a couple of cases in England at that point, Matthews and his brother made a point of heading for the visitors’ sanitising lotion on the ward and advising a passing nurse that the bottle was empty.
“The nurse replied that she didn’t have any more and that much the same applied to the hospital overall,” said Matthews. “And that’s when she added that she just hoped the coronavirus situation wasn’t going to get any worse.”
On the drive home, Matthews decided that Loch Lomond Whiskies could produce an appropriate sanitiser and when, the next day, he posted on LinkedIn that this was what he had in mind, he was blown away by the response. “I had thousands and thousands of requests,” he said. “We made 25,000 on our first run alone, which was a huge ask for a company of our size, and things have been escalating ever since." (They sent out another 50,000 at the end of last week.) The MacPhie company have bottled the product and provided the bottles, while DHL, the delivery people, and FairShare Scotland, who support 650 organisations including homes for the elderly and rape crisis centres, have taken on the distribution as they watch out for unscrupulous outfits who might seize the chance to make a quick buck out of the lotion.
Even Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have played their part. In the space of a couple of days, HMRC authorised duty exemption for the alcoholic content which, for the record, is 70 percent – an amount which has the sanitiser conforming with World Health Organisation standards.
Hundreds of thank you notes have arrived at the factory’s door, with Warburtons, the famous British bakery, so touched by the gift of sanitiser for their delivery drivers that they turned up at the Loch Lomond-based brewery with enough loaves for Matthews’ 350 workers. Matthews says that every one of those 350 staff members is sharing in the pride he feels about the business playing such a useful role. As, indeed, does Colin Montgomerie, the first of Loch Lomond Whiskies’ golf ambassadors. “I think it’s terrific what Colin Matthews has done," he said. "He’s one of life’s great entrepreneurs and I’m in total awe of the way he got this project under way so quickly."
Of course, the production of whisky is ongoing, with the distillery looming large at this year’s San Francisco World Spirits competition. They picked up 12 awards in total, these including two coveted Platinum medals – the "major" trophies in the whisky business – for their Loch Lomond 12-year-old single malt and their 25-year-old Glen Scotia.
Moving on to what is a rare bit of good news on the current golfing tournament scene, the company has signed on to become involved in the sponsorship of the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth besides taking on the title sponsorship of the Scottish PGA. And in keeping with this PGA connection, the company are also sponsoring a grass-roots event in which PGA professionals will be able to preside over "Spirit of the Open" monthly medals for their club members.
As for their ambassadors, rumour has it that Montgomerie, Cristie Kerr and Darren Clarke are shortly to be joined by Rich Beem, the former US PGA champion and Sky commentator. Beem should be in place for next year and, of course, for the 150th Open at St Andrews.
Golf and whisky have gone together since time immemorial and Matthews has not only played his part in contributing to that union but also in extending it. Just as he has come to the help of the nation with his hand sanitisers so, in 2016, this once scratch handicap man answered the call to support Aberdeen Asset Management when they were looking for back-up sponsorship for their Scottish Women’s Open. Matthews felt that it behoved him, as a local, to do his bit. To put it mildly, he was astonished at how well things panned out – and it was that experience, more than any other, which prompted him to enter the men’s arena.
And it was typical of him that when he came to that decision it never entered his head to desert the women. Rather did he stay with the Scottish Women’s Open and add a five-year contract with the Women’s British Open.
In the meantime it will be worth watching out for Loch Lomond Whiskies’ way of promoting their original product ahead of what would have been this year’s Open week.
It will include the same lovely line as the one on the special edition bottle: Be there in spirit.