Pitlochry’s Blair Athol Distillery

Blair Athol is one of the oldest working distilleries in Scotland and stands at the gateway to the Scottish Highlands. A distillery at the site of Blair Athol was originally functioning from 1798 but little is known about it. The present distillery at Pitlochry in Perthshire Scotland was established in 1826. Pitlochry is a picturesque town about 25 miles north of Perth.

The distillery was being run in 1827 by Alexander Connacher. It was taken over by Peter Mackenzie & Co in the middle of the 19th century who expanded it and improved its functioning. It was producing 1500 gallons of their increasing popular whisky by 1886. Water came from its own burn, Allt na Dour which runs through the distillery. In those days Blair Athol had its own malting floors and peat was brought from as far away as Orkney.

The depression hit the distillery badly and Blair Athol was closed in 1932 and remained shut through the years of the depression and the Second World War. In 1933 Peter Mackenzie & Co was taken over by Arthur Bell & Sons, which in now a subsidiary of Diageo. The Blair Athol distillery was rebuilt entirely in 1949 and has been in production ever since.

In the early 1970s the original stills were supplemented by two additional stills and the production was doubled. By the early 21st century Blair Athol was producing 38,000 liters per week. The distillery no longer malts its own barley but malted barley is delivered twice a day from the Diageo group’s central malting operations. The malted barley is lightly peat-smoked there to Blair Athol’s specifications.

The belt driven milling machine at Blair Athol was in use since 1934 till quite recently. Today a Porteous milling machine which is standard in many new distilleries has been installed. This has made the distillery highly energy efficient and the power consumption is only 60% of the amount consumed at other distilleries.

Blair Athol produces a 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky, known for its mellow deep toned aroma, a strong fruity flavor and a smooth finish. Only 5% of the distillery is marketed as this single malt. It is one of the Diageo group’s Fauna & Flora collection.

The rest of the whisky is sold to blenders like Bell. It is used in blends such as Bell’s Blend, the most popular blended whisky in the U.K and certain European countries. The liquor meant for sale as a single malt is matured in Blair Athol’s old traditional style warehouses. The spirit to be sold to Bells for use in blending is also matured in the other distillery warehouses. About half the spirit, which is for sale in the open whisky market, is filled into wooden casks. This is then sent in tanks to destination when required.

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