Blair Athol (Pronounced: blair ATHol)
56°41'51.8568 N, 3°43'7.014 W
Edradour, Aberfeldy, Dalwhinnie
Allt Dour Burn
2 Wash stills, 2 Spirit stills
2,500,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Diageo > UDV (since 1998)
Pitlochry, Perthshire, PH16 5LY, Scotland, UK
Well, a small shop and a large tasting room
No - although special bottlings are sold at the distillery
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
1) These days (after the year 2000) bottles of Blair Athol whisky are relatively hard to find.
There are no recent OB's that I know of - unless you count an overproof version that became available exclusively at the distillery around 2010. That being said, Bells used to release a semi-official bottling in the 1980's. Two later 'semi official' whisky bottlings were a 12yo Flora & Fauna released in the 1990's and a 27yo 1975 'Rare Malts' whisky.
2) At some point the whisky PR people got it into their heads that blended whiskies needed a 'spiritual home'.
Blair Athol distillery is considered to be the 'spiritual home' of Diageo's famous Bell's blend. The blend supposedly also contained Caol Ila, Dufftown, Glenkinchie and Inchgower - and loads of cheap grain whisky of course...
3) Most of the Blair Athol malt whisky that is destined for Bell's and other blends (at least 90%) has been matured almost exclusively in bourbon casks while the whisky that will be used for single malts comes from sherry casks.
4) A few years ago the production capacity of Blair Athol was 2,000,000 litres of pure alcohol per year.
After Diageo started to push the Bell's blend, production at Blair Athol was increased to 2,500,000 litres per year.
5) The Blair Athol distillery is located in the charming little town of Pitlochry, just like Edradour.
The distillery receives around 40,000 visitors each year in their whisky visitor centre.
Blair Athol NAS (55.8%, OB, Distillery only bottling, bottled 2010)
Nose: Furniture polish. Hint of sellery? A little odd. Grows a little more mainstream; sweeter with fruitier notes.
It gradually moves in a more flowery & perfumy direction, but never goes to extremes. Sweeter with water.
Taste: Very odd start, like an herb liqueur. Some liquorice and aniseed, a bit like Pernod. Bittersweet finish.
Score: 77 points - the alcoholic burn on the palate of this whisky distracts initially, but that evaporates.
Blair Athol 1998/2009 (46%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, cask#2157)
Nose: Smells very young - not like an 11yo. Dry and slightly farmy. Peaches. Hint of cassis? Some spices.
Needs a few minutes to open up, but when it does it becomes an unassuming but very pleasant dram.
Taste: Smooth and very sweet start. Odd fruits. Dry centre and finish. A decent amount of tannins.
Score: 80 points - with the artificial sweetness on the palate it tastes a little like a finished whisky.
I gave the score of 80 points in the MM Awards so I couldn't change it; otherwise I would have raised it to 82.
Blair Athol 15yo 1990/2006 (61,4%, Blackadder Raw Cask, First fill bodega sherry C#7161, 483 Bts.)
Nose: Quite subtle at first. Rubber. A sherried profile, but I wouldn't call it 'suphury'.
A splash of water dulled the nose at first, but after a minute some extra layers emerged.
Taste: Big, sweet and fruity on the palate - and quite hot. Clear and present tannins.
Too bad there's something perfumy or soapy on the palate keeping it from the 90's.
Score: 88 points - which means I nominated it for a silver medal in the Malt Maniacs Awards 2006.
Blair Athol 16yo 1990/2006 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, DL REF 923, Distilled 05/'90, Bottled 12/'06)
Nose: Old book store - a hint of antiquity. Then fruitier notes emerge. And then some more.
A very rich fruit cake. Hint of Menthos sweets. Lovely! It doesn't have a lot of 'staying power' though...
Taste: Not as obviously sweet as the nose at first, but then sweetness emerges in the background.
Score: 82 points - quite subtle in the nose but with lots of development in the first few minutes.
Blair Athol 13yo 1989/2002 (58.8%, Cadenhead's Authentic, Bourbon, 240 bottles, 06/2002)
Nose: Sweet and spicy at first. Honey sweetness. Very pleasant, but not a lot of depth.
Light organics. Androgynous. It seems the high proof overwhelms any subtleties here.
Taste: Straight, it's sweetish with a faint coffee sensation. Greasy finish - like oatmeal?
Easily drinkable at C/S. Pleasant mouth feel. Not a lot of change after adding some water.
Score: 79 points - a good malt, but like many other Cadenhead's it may be just a bit too strong.
A very high proof can mask flaws in a malt, but it can also overpower the finer nuances.
Blair Athol 11yo 1989/2000 (58.1%, Cadenhead's Authentic, Bourbon Hogshead, 324 bottles)
Nose: Transparant and dry. Hint of peat? Not as powerful as I expected, to tell you the truth.
There was an explosion of character with five drops of water, but ten more drops killed it.
Taste: Easily drinkable at an otherwise painbtstripping 58.1%. Very pleasant complexity.
A fruity sweetness that remains entertaining for a long time. Yeah, I like this!
Score: 82 points - definitely a recommendable dram from the charming Blair Athol distillery.
Blair Athol 12yo (43%, Flora & Fauna, Bottled +/- 1996, code LLIA0001274, 70cl)
Nose: Very 'flavoury', with a growing sweetness. This one needs a minute to open up.
Smoky. Ginger? Red wine? Sweet and sour? A great nose - an excellent and elusive whisky.
Taste: Sweet and fruity. A soft start slowly develops into a prolonged explosion.
Nothing really wrong here, but not special enough to warrant a score in the 80's.
Score: 79 points - hold the water, though... This Blair Athol is best drank straight.
Blair Athol 18yo 1977 (50.4%, James McArthur, Bottled +/- 1995)
Nose: The nose was light, sweet and spicy. Mocca. This appealed to me right away.
It opens up further over time, developing some herbal and oily notes. Very pleasant indeed.
Taste: It had a spicy bite on the palate and feels quite 'hot' at 50% - more so than I expected.
Woody and chewy (tannins) with some liquorice - I love that. A tad dry and bitter in the finish.
Score: 82 points - a recommendable Blair Athol malt whisky that loses just one or two points in the finish.
Blair Athol 12yo (43%, Flora & Fauna, Bottled early 1990's)
Nose: Heavily sherried. Roasted nuts. Smoke. organics. Quite serious and much 'bigger' than recent releases.
Taste: Fruity and sherried. Roasted nuts again, and the same seriousness I found in the nose. Very good.
Score: 85 points - it definitely scores a little higher on my malt-o-meter than more recent Blair Athol bottlings.
In fact, this expression may have been my personal favourite 'Flora & Fauna' bottling.
Blair Athol 'Over 8yo' (70 Proof, Bells OB, Black Label, Bottled Early 1980's)
Nose: Rich and fruity. Lemon? Developing spices. Organics. A faint but pleasant hint of peat.
Sadly, it drops dead after a minute - it loses quite a few points here after a promising start.
Taste: It felt a tad gritty on the palate with maybe a faint trace of peat. I didn't expect that...
Quite potent with gentle tannins and a dry finish. Another 'antique' malt with quite a bit of peat.
Score: 79 points - I couldn't go for 'recoomendable, even on the Scottish soil of Glasgow.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Blair Athol Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Blair Athol page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Blair Athol expressions that have been released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
2005 - the 'Bells Special Reserve' is launched; a vatted malt whisky (a blend of different malt whiskies).
2010 - The 12yo 'Flora & Fauna' expression of the Blair Athol whisky has been the only semi-official bottling from
the distillery for many years, but in or around 2010 Diageo introduced cask strength "distillery only" bottlings...
Not just of Blairathol, mind you - from distilleries like Lagavulin and Talisker as well.
2010 - The Blair Athol distillery is partly refurbished; the eight old washbacks (four made from wood, four from steel) are replaced by six brand new washbacks - all made out of steel this time.
is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, founded in
1798 by John Stewart and Robert Robertson near the picturesque
little town of Pitlochry. The young Blair Athol distillery was closed
not long afterwards, however - until it was revived again by John
Robertson in 1825/'26. It ran continuously for a decade after that.
A string of different owners followed in rapid succession; Alexander
Conacher & Co., John Conacher & Co, Peter Fraser & Co., Elizabeth
Conacher and P. McKenzie & Co Distillers Limited. The Blair Athol
distillery was finally closed in 1932, before being purchased by
Arthur Bell & Sons Ltd. in 1933. Although Arthur Bell owned Blair
Athol, they didn't actually use it until it was fully rebuilt in 1949.
In 1973 two more stills
were added to the existing two and in 1992 Blair Athol was expanded with a
visitor centre. Four malt maniacs visited Blair Athol in the summer 2003; in fact it was the very first
malt whisky distillery in Scotland I visited myself. Read the report about our visit to Blair Athol in my
Liquid Log (it's entry #140) for some interesting information about this Midlands distillery.
In 1998 Blair Athol's owners United Distillers (UD, part of the well-known Guiness Group) and
International Distillers and Vintners (IDV, part of the Grand Metropolitan Group) merged into a new
whisky industry giant; United Distillers and Vintners (UDV, more or less synonymous with Diageo).
UDV/Diageo owns almost 30 malt whisky distilleries.
Diageo hasn't opened up all its distilleries to
visitors, but Blair Athol is 'hospitable'. The tour
of the distillery is excellent; very relaxed yet
informative. The distillery grounds are quite
beautifully laid out around a gently curving
stream. The buildings are covered in vines
and/or that typical black fungus that seems
to like whisky almost as much as us maniacs.
One more thing: I wrote that Blair Athol was
founded in 1789. Actually, the distillery that was
founded on this location was called 'Aldour',
after the Allt Dour burn that still provides the
distillery with its water today.
The Gaelic name of the stream means 'burn of the otter' - hence the picture of an otter on the label of the Flora & Fauna bottling shown above. I already mentioned that Blair Athol distillery is well worth a visit - at least I think so. It's conveniently located about half a mile South of the centre of Pitlochry, definitely worthy of a vist itself. In fact, it's a perfect stop on any trip through Scotland, because you can find the Edradour distillery nearby as well. In the unlikely event that you experience one of Scotland's short spells of nice weather, a walk from Pitlochry to Edradour (+/- five miles) through the hills surrounding the village is a very pleasant experience indeed. And if you're touring through the Midlands in the comfort of a car, Aberfeldy isn't that far away either.
Is the distillery or