If you can get your hands on a single malt edition, it will likely be Sherry cask aged, and this is a very very good thing. We cannot speak for all of the different independent bottler releases, so our comments will rely on the famous Flora and Fauna 12 YO edition.
You will find a full-bodied dram that could have came from Macallan, but hasmore roasted nuts. It makes us thing of new orleans-style pecan pralines and fresh raisins on the palate. You will also find some fruit -- tart apples and berry -- with a lingering maltiness. All in all a realy solid offering that we wish was more commercially available.
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The distillery gets its water from a picturesque stream that runs right by the still house, called Allt Dour Burn. In Gaelic, this translates as "Stream of the Otter", which is why the Flora and Fauna release has a drawing of an otter on the label.
Because Blair Athol is so important to the history and actual Whisky of Bell's blended Scotch, it is referred to as "the spiritual home" of Bell's in their literature.
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If you take the train from Edinburgh to Inverness, the tracks start to rise into the mountain country, after you pass Perth. The land is incredibly beautiful here, and even though highway Route A9 runs almost the same path, the best way to see it is by train.
Anyway, about half way on your journey, the Blair Athol Distillery will be on your left as you head north. It sits in a lush, green valley just outside the town of Pitlochry.
The very first distillery on the Blair Athol site was opened by John Ateward and Robert Robertson, in 1798. They named their distillery "Aldour", after the stream that supplied their water -- Allt Dour Burn -- but they closed shortly after they opened. The property was sold to John Robertson, who reopened it as Blair Athol in 1825.
Being off the beaten track a bit in the central Highlands, Blair Athol has never received much attention. It was bought and sold and traded, back and forth for a century, before beingmothballed and closed for good in 1932.
As the famous Scotch blend Bell's grew, they needed more reliable production, and found Blair Athol. They purchased the entire site and refurbished -- reopening in 1949, and then doubling the number of stills in 1973.
To this day, nearly all production is used to fill demand for the famous Bell's bended Scotch Whisky. As respected a blend as Bell's is, if you are a single malt fan it kind of breaks your heart, because it's hard to get your hands on a bottle of their pure spirit.
The Flora and Fauna series came out with a 12YO Blair Athol single malt, that is really good. And there are a number of independent bottlings from all the major independents bottlers out there -- folks like Gordon & Company, Douglas Laing, Gordon McPhail, and others have always known that the single malt here is good stuff. So they buy a few casks here and there and bottle them up.
Another point about their production, is that the "nutty" character of the spirit comes from their wash and vatting technique. The flavor lends itself to Sherry cask aging. But since almost all of the Whisky goes into a blend, they use Bourbon casks.
We get it, but we all wish that they would stab-off 5% or 10% of their production and age it in Sherry, so that the world could taste their solid single malt, as we think it should be. That being said... they do sell a bit of single malt directly through their visitor center. But we are not aware of any on the broader, local, or export market.
CountryUnited Kingdom, Scotland
No. of stills2 wash, 2 spirit
AddressBlair Athol Distillery, Perth Rd, Pitlochry PH16 5LY, United Kingdom