Blair Athol distillery: The spiritual home of Bell's blended whisky.
Blair Athol is a distillery that is relatively unheralded, primarily due to its function as a cog in the impressive blended whisky machine of Diageo. The distillery is seen as the spiritual home of Bell's blended whisky and forms the heart of the blend.
Today's review focuses on a 22 Years Old expression which has been bottled by The Single Cask for their range of bespoke whiskies and is a part of their “The Single Cask Gems” flight at the bar.
Before we get into the review, let's delve into the history of the distillery which spawned this expression. It is a rather interesting story too!
The distillery grounds.
The distillery grounds.
Blair Athol distillery was founded in 1798 by John Stewart and Robert Robertson as Aldour distillery, which was its predecessor. The initial name was taken from the Allt Dour river, which was located next to the distillery site.
The distillery was then expanded and renamed as Blair Athol in 1825 by John Robertson and it was leased by the Duke of Atholl to Alexander Connacher & Co the following year.
The distillery remained in the hands of the Connacher family until 1862, when it was purchased by Peter Mackenzie & Company Distillers Ltd of Edinburgh (who would eventually found the Dufftown distillery) and expanded further.
In 1933, Arthur Bell & Sons takes over the distillery by acquiring Peter Mackenzie & Company after being mothballed the previous year and it took until 1949 for the distillery to restart production due to the effects of the Depression as well as the Second World War.
Blair Athol became an important part of Bell's blended whisky, but while it was founded by Arthur Bell and his sons, Arthur and Robert, it took the arrival of an outsider to truly put the brand on the map.
In 1956, Raymond Miquel joined the company and stepped up to become managing director in 1968. It was then that he realised that the company had a very traditional way of doing things which did not serve them well in their quest to make Bell's a well known brand.
Miquel sought to modernise the processes utilised by the distillery and expanded the amount of stills from two to four, which helped to greatly improve production of Blair Athol whisky. Over the next decade, Miquel oversaw the growth of sales of Bell's blended whisky in the home market from ₤20m to ₤159m.
This staggering amount of success did not go unnoticed and it attracted the interest of the Guinness Group and its manager, Ernest Saunders, who launched a hostile takeover of Arthur Bell & Sons in 1985 and successfully absorbed it into the brewing giant's portfolio.
The distillery was further expanded and a visitor centre was built in 1987, with Blair Athol remaining a key component in the Bell's range as well as several other blended whiskies including those from the Johnnie Walker range.
In terms of equipment, the distillery sports an 8-tonne semi-lauter mash tun, six washbacks made of stainless steel and two pairs of stills. It is currently running 7 days of week and performing 16 mashes, which allows for an annual production capacity of 2.5 million litres of pure alcohol.
The whisky is matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, with the former being used for Bell's blended whisky and the latter being used for other blends and purposes. In terms of official bottlings, the distillery has a 12 Years Old expression within the Diageo Flora & Fauna range as well as a 27 Years Old cask strength expression from 1975 within the Rare Malts series.
The distillery also released a No Age Statement (NAS) expression in 2010 which was matured in first fill sherry casks and bottled at cask strength as a distillery exclusive.
So, let's jump right into the review!
The Single Cask Blair Athol 1991 22 Years Old (58.4% abv)
Colour: Bright gold
Nose: Slightly woody upon initial entry, with summer fruits (apricots and peaches), camphor and a pronounced alcohol note. Fresh and grassy on the nose, with white pepper and some floral elements emerging after some time.
Palate: Quite complex on the rather full palate, with savoury and spicy elements making an appearance. The summer fruits from the nose as well as the white pepper also emerge, with hints of citrus, allspice and some cherry blossoms also apparent.
Finish: Long and lingering finish, with camphor, citrus, peaches, apricots, allspice and white pepper following all the way through to create a sweet, rich and spicy combination of flavours. Very more-ish and immensely enjoyable.
Balance: A relatively well balanced dram, with good representation from the sweet, spicy, citrusy and woody elements. Also a good representation of the distillery's house style.
The Single Cask Blair Athol 1991 22 Years Old is available for purchase by the bottle at the bar for $446 (with an additional 10% service charge levied on top) and a dram can be purchased for $39 (with an additional 10% service charge levied on top).
The bottle is also available for takeaway and can be purchased at a 30% discount on the aforementioned price and without any additional service charge levied on top, reatiling for an immensely affordable $312.20 each.
Alternatively, patrons have the choice of purchasing a 100ml sample bottle of the whisky, which is available at the bar. For more information, please approach our friendly bar staff.
Written by Brendan Pillai for The Single Cask.
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