Blair Athol is a single malt distillery located in the central Highland town of Pitlochry. The popular blended Scotch brand of Bell's has had a connection with Blair Athol since it was first released in 1896. The spirit remains an important ingredient within the blend today. 99% of all the spirit produced at the distillery goes to blends, which also include Johnnie Walker and Black & White. Single malts released under the Blair Athol name are rare but highly regarded.
Blair Athol is a sweet, nutty and fragrant spirit with a rich and viscous quality. The main cask type for maturation is ex-sherry. Bourbon whiskey casks are also employed occasionally. The only official bottling is Blair Athol 12 years old. This sits within Diageo's Flora & Fauna series, which showcases Diageo's lesser-known single malt distilleries while celebrating local wildlife and landscape. It shows notes of toffee, green apple, malted cereals, sultanas and orange peel.
There is also a no age statement whisky that is exclusive to the distillery shop. Limited editions are released from time to time including a 27 year old. in the Diageo Rare Malts range and a 23 year old. in the Diageo Special Releases.
Blair Athol operates five days per week from Sunday evening until Friday lunchtime. There is an eight-tonne mash tun and this runs 12 mashes each week. There are six stainless steel washbacks and they have one of the shortest fermentation times in Scotland at just 46 hours - this results in more nutty and cereal notes in the spirit. Occasionally they also run a much longer fermentation of 104 hours. There are two pairs of stills and these have an annual production capacity of 2.8 million litres. The water source for production is taken from the Allt-Dour burn, which runs between the distillery and its dunnage warehouses.
Blair Athol was founded in 1798 by John Stewart and Robert Robertson. The location at the southern end of Pitlochry in the Highlands was chosen because of its proximity to the Allt-Dour burn. As a result, the original name of the distillery was Aldour. It remains one of the very few distilleries operating in Scotland today to have been built in the 18th century.
The ownership changed to John Robertson in 1825. The distillery was renamed Blair Atholl in reference to its position on land belonging to the Atholl Estate. At some point, which no one is quite sure of, the final L was dropped from the name. This was allegedly following a dispute with the Duke of Atholl.
Alexander Connacher purchased the distillery just one year later in 1826. His relative Elizabeth Connacher became distillery manager in 1860, becoming one of the first women in Scotland to hold such a position. Peter Mackenzie & Co. Distillers Ltd. took control in 1882 and started selling Blair Athol's spirit for use in the new blend of Bell's in 1896. They operated the distillery until 1932. It did not reopen until 1949. However, during this time Arthur Bell & Sons purchased the distillery to secure a consistent supply of single malt for his ever-growing brand.
Arthur Bell & Sons was purchased by the Guinness Group in 1985. It was they who built the visitor centre, which is one of the most visited of all Diageo's Scottish distilleries. They receive 90,000 visitors on average per year. Guinness Group was later one of the companies that formed Diageo in 1997. They remain the owners today.