Blair Athol distillery serves as the spiritual home for Bell’s blended whisky, which is the best selling whisky in the UK. Bell’s became part of Diageo after Guinness eyed Bell’s success 1985, and acquired it through a hostile takeover. Bell’s signature malt is Blair Athol, but it also has malts from Dufftown, Caol Ila, Glenkinchie and Inchgower. Also figuring in the blend was Pittyvaich, but after the distillery was closed in 1993, blending stocks dwindled off and are no longer used in Bell’s.
This is an old distillery, one of those established in the late 18th century (1798), but does not have its own bottlings. The distillery was part of UDV’s Flora and Fauna series, where a 12 year old with an otter on the label was released, and bottles of this expression are still available. One 27 year old was bottled in the Rare Malts Selection series in 2003 at 54.7% ABV, but subsequently none of the annual Special Releases featured a Blair Athol. The only other bottling is a 2010 NAS distillery exclusive bottled from a First fill sherry cask at cask strength (55.8% ABV).
The late Michael Jackson described Blair Athol whisky as one that “matures quickly and behaves like a gentleman” and as sturdy and well proportioned.
Wemyss Malts Blair Athol 1986 – Autumn Berries – Hogshead bottled 2012, Yield 268 Bottles (46% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Straw, thin legs.
Nose: Malt and cereal, with honey, floral notes and wax. After a while, the bourbon cask comes through confectionery notes and hints of rose water. Allowed some time, a sour note appears, reminding me of a white wine.
Palate: Buttered popcorn just on the cusp of going stale, beer sourness with notes of artificial sweetener, red berries but more on the side of raspberries and cranberries.
Linger: Sour and long fruity notes, with spice. Dry and somewhat metallic.
If you’re into sweet whiskies, this one is obviously not one for you. If, however, you like tartness, you’ll find this expression very rewarding and fun, especially sorting through the flavors on the palate.