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Blair Athol

Blair Athol

Blair Athol in a nutshell:

founded: 1798
owner: Diageo
region: Highlands
location: 56° 41’ 53.5” N 03° 43’ 21” W
status: active
capacity: 2,800,000 litres
washbacks: 6 stainless steel
stills: 4
source of water: Allt Dour Burn
tours: yes

Blair Athol

The Blair Athol distillery is one of the very few which date back to the 18th century, and have survived until this day. Initially it was called Aldour, after the name of Allt Dour burn that flows right next to the plant and supplies it with water. It was expanded for the first time in 1825 and that is when its name got changed to Blair Athol, after a small village situated a few miles away. It was probably to please the Duke of Atholl, who owned the land. To make things even more complicated, the distillery is not located in Blair Atholl, it lies in Pitlochry. Situated by the main road linking Edinburgh and Inverness, Pitlochry is a popular tourist resort, and makes for a perfect base for trips to the picturesque Loch Tay, Loch Rannoch and Loch Tummel on one side, and to the Cairngorm mountains on another. This probably accounts for the fact that the Blair Athol Visitor Centre is one of the most popular and most frequented such centres in Scotland. It is estimated to welcome 35 thousand visitors a year.

In 1922 Blair Athol was bought by Peter Mackenzie & Company Distillers Ltd., an Edinburgh based company – the same one which was to build the first distillery in Dufftown just over a decade later. The new owner expanded the plant, thus increasing its production capacity. Whisky was produced there continuously until 1932, when the plant had to be closed down due to financial troubles that the company was going through. A year later, the Peter Mackenzie company was taken over by Arthur Bell & Sons. It has remained associated with the brand to this day, despite a few other ownership changes that took place in the second half of the 20th century, which makes it a part of one of the most powerful corporations in the spirits industry, namely Diageo. Despite being taken over by Arthur Bell & Sons in 1933, the distillery remained silent for more than a decade – the period shortly before the war, as well as the war time did not favour the development of spirit distillation.

Whisky production resumed at Blair Athol only in 1949, following a major refurbishment and renovation, necessary as a result of the plant being silent for so long. In 1973 the number of stills was increased to four, and in 1987, the Visitor Centre, mentioned in the initial paragraph, was launched. It is now a place not only popular with regular tourists visiting the picturesque town of Pitlochry, but also more seasoned whisky connoisseurs.

As the vast majority of the distillery’s production goes into blending, bottles of the Blair Athol single malt whisky are a rather rare sight at your average off-licence. The most popular blended whisky that has some of the spirit distilled at Blair Athol in it, is Bell’s, one of the best selling blends on the British market. It has been made a custom that the whisky that is meant for blending matures in ex-bourbon casks, whereas the remaining part of the production finds its way to ex-sherry casks. In the 1990s, a 12 year old single malt was released under the Flora & Fauna series, as well as a 27 year old expression in the Rare Malts line. Both are marketed by Diageo. In 2010 a cask strength no-age statement expression was released, available exclusively at the distillery.
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