There are a few whisky encounters that will live long in my memory and one was my first introduction to Blair Athol. I had just started looking after the tasting programme at Regional Wines and I guess it coincided with that feeling of a whole new world opening up in front of me as I reacquainted myself with both whisky and whisky people. It certainly blew my mind and was my first knowing taste of sulphurous whisky, reminding me of reductive minerality often found in wine and a kind of complexity that I hadn’t associated with whisky until then. The experience stamped the name Blair Athol on my cerebellum and, ever since, I always get super excited at the thought of trying new expressions from this distillery.
Of course Blair Athol isn’t necessarily known for sulphur, but it is known for a nuttiness and, well, peanuts are definitely a descriptor that crops up when talking sulphurous whiskies - so arguably there’s an overlap at this point.
We’ve had some other cracking Blair Athols at RW tastings, most notably a Signatory bottling tasted at the end of last year when we lined up a whole load of peers from this famous indie bottler. It won on the night and if there had been more available - it would have gone on to Best of the Best, our grand finale tasting that looks at the best whiskies from that year. Who knows, possibly it would have won.
Last month we got another crack at Blair Athol with a 25 YO Old Malt Cask offering which we pitted against a rather handy looking lineup at a predominantly sherry-driven tasting of dark looking whiskies. It came second and was beaten by an English single malt from the Cotswolds distillery. Yes, you did read that right - an English dram beat a rather impressive lineup of Scottish single malts and Amrut’s high-end offering - Spectrum 004. Hell just froze over.
Anyway, back to our Blair Athol. It was my favourite of the night - but I knew which glass it was in (unlike anyone else in the room) and it’s hard to be objective in these circumstances. So, with a dram in front of me now… I’m going to revisit it again - just in the name of research you understand.
A lovely autumnal gold in the glass with some decent legs gripping to the sides after a swirl or two. The nose is a multidimensional delight with citrus fruits and wine gums combining with savoury elements; minerals, cut grass and a freshly polished boot or two. It’s certainly not just a tale of sherry - the age has really softened things and created those sumptuous sappy notes you often find with lengthy maturation. But whereas the nose is gentler than we may have expected - the palate is full and concentrated, with the sherry elements really coming to the fore. Sweet malts and custards, confected lemon drops and a cleansing crunch on a Granny Smith which has me thinking American oak (but who knows). Superb length on the finish rounds off a class act - as you’d hope at the price.
Blair Athol‘s more delicate side perhaps, when compared to the previously mentioned offerings and showing “old” whisky at its best. Charged from a large format butt, the malt really shines through beautifully and there’s not a hint of sulphur either which will please the purists out there. This kind of whisky invariably struggles at a blind tasting, but I’m picking a Friday night spent with this bottle will find you in the most splendid of company.
Buy Blair Athol here.