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At the beginning of February I went on a distillery visit glut and this included visiting Speyside’s Blair Athol distillery. The distillery hides itself behind a giant Bell’s Whisky sign so you could be mistaken for thinking that it’s more of a Bell’s visitor centre than the sight of an active single malt distillery built in 1798. Situated near Pitlochry, which is a great place for a weekend away, the distillery is one of Scotland’s oldest and also one of the likeliest to be flooded as we saw…
Bell’s Blair Athol sign
The distillery produces a relatively small amount of spirit, only 2.5 million litres of pure alcohol a year, which is at the lower end for Scottish distilleries and of that amount only a few percent is bottled as a single malt the rest is used in Bells’ blends. If you get the chance of a Blair Athol Whisky definitely try it because it is incredibly rare for what it is which is mainly a blending spirit.
When we arrived upon the distillery at around 3pm on a Friday the place was literally dead. My friend and I were the entire tour party and as a result we were given a very informal enjoyable tour of the distillery. Blair Athol is to Bell’s what Aberfeldy is to Dewars (I wrote about my experience on that tour here) – the Blender’s basecamp and I’m not alone in feeling this. Of the two neighbouring distilleries I would suggest that Blair Athol is the weaker, not necessarily from a spirit point of view, because it felt dated (as the below image illustrates),
This board sits in the main waiting area and it obviously used to contain bottles from each region but what’s weird is the additional Whisky region and the borders between the regions…
in addition the the tour experience was less interactive compared to Aberfeldy and there was a lot less to see as I will explain. In hindsight, perhaps Blair Athol was just more open about what it didn’t do and at least they give the driver a sample of Single Malt unlike Aberfedly where you receive Dewar’s White Label!
The tour guide was very knowledgeable and provided insight into everything from the yeast strains to the loss of the distillery’s documented history through a fire and what followed was the typical Whisky tour format; progressing through the various functions of the distillery mash tuns, the two spirit stills and the warehouse (some 1960s casks sitting in there!). I couldn’t help but feel disappointed with one major aspect, they don’t actually fill any casks in Blair Athol and instead the spirit is loaded directly into a transport which takes it somewhere else to be loaded into casks.
Blair Athol is not the original distillery that was located here, that honour belongs to 'Aldour' founded in 1789 which took it's name from the burn that passes through the distillery's buildings called Allt Dour Burn, from the Gaelic 'burn of the otter'. As you will note from Blair Athol's single Malt 12 year old release there is a drawing of the otter in homage to this.
The flood defences were out in force at Blair Athol that day, with sandbags snaking around the distillery but despite this the distillery had a gloomy picturesqueness to it; with the romantic look of old farm houses submitting to natures green vines which crawled over the faces of the buildings.
It’s a worth a visit, as mentioned the tour guides are very informative and pleasant and you can say you’ve seen one of Scotland’s oldest distillery’s but there is no escaping the feeling that with the Blair Athol tour your only getting to see part of the puzzle.
Blair Athol 12 year old, which you get to try at the end of the tour