Blair Athol. The home of Bell's Blended Scotch.
Blair Athol and Edradour are right down the road from each other and in all fairness, you really should save Edradour for last. They aren’t arch enemies or rivals, but they do exist for very different reasons. This is why I am visiting not just the iconic, centuries old distilleries, but also looking at the more modern day working distilleries such as Blair Athol. On the outside it is gorgeous with vines growing up the stone walls on most buildings. It definitely has age and character to it, but a slightly different history and future than some of the other big single malt brands.
Blair Athol was originally built to make blends. The Bell’s blend, which is very popular in the UK, was supported by this facility. Still to this day, when you go to their website it is called “Bell’s” not Blair Athol. Also to this day Bell’s is one of the most popular blends around here. Not quite as popular in the US and you will definitely never find the actual single malt that is called “Blair Athol” because it isn’t sold in the US. It is only sold in a handful of countries.
The majority of the information I gathered from this tour was a bit of a closer look at how Diageo is running the place. Efficiency is of course important to a huge conglomerate like Diageo. Like most distilleries nowadays they outsource their malting to from these four locations listed below. It also looks like they may own these facilities as well. I am going to have to look further into that.
Here you can find a list and info on all UK malting companies and locations. http://www.ukmalt.com/malting-sites-uk
The facility has six washbacks, all stainless steel and no wood. Stainless steel is of course easier to clean, but you will hear some distilleries claim the wood gives additional desired flavors. They work Monday-Friday and have a two day fermentation period. It is all very controlled so that things ferment over the weekend and everyone is back at it to distill and start the mashtuns on Monday morning. As far as the tour guide told me, all of Diageo’s distilleries currently do not fill casks on site anymore. The only one left is Royal Lochnagar. Trucks will come and pick up the new-make spirit to then be put into casks at a specific facility with many of their other distilleries product. For efficiency this makes complete sense, but also takes some of the process away from each site. Apparently all of this cask filling happens in Stirling, Scotland. Then the casks are distributed to different warehouses for aging. They have three warehouses on site that hold 5,000 barrels each and the rest are located throughout Scotland. Oh and mind you, just like Oban, no pictures were allowed to be taken so I apologize!
Now on to their one and only single malt. I am not sure when this was decided that they would create this, but I had the 12 year, so it must have been a decision made at least 12 years ago!
Blair Athol 12 Year Single Malt
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Milk chocolate, milk duds, ripe plum.
Palate: Fruit zest, ends with figs and has caramel and rich chocolate.
This was aged in a sherry cask.
I still have yet to try the Bell’s. Perhaps I will order it next to I’m out to look like a true local. I may get it on the rocks as well. Regardless, I felt their single malt was quite nice. It currently is only sold in Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
Next up is Kingsbarns…