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One of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, Balblair was founded by John Ross in 1790, beside the village of Edderton in the northeast of Scotland. He was later joined in 1824 by his son Andrew, ensuring that the business stayed in his family for many years to come. Later, in 1872, his descendants oversaw the complete relocation of the distillery in an attempt to capitalise on the arrival of the Edderton railway station which linked the village with Inverness and the south, a move which gave the business greater access to fuel and casks and a more direct shipping route to the great blending houses of the central belt.
In 1894 however, then owner James Ross took the decision to sell Balblair and all its stocks, ending more than 100 years of family ownership. The distillery was purchased by Alexander Cowan, a successful wine trader based in Inverness. Cowan expanded the distillery, boosting its production capacity but his timing couldn’t have been worse. The early 20th century saw the scotch industry take a dramatic downturn with countless distillers across the land forced out of business. Balblair ceased production in 1911 and would remain silent for many years to come, with the last drop of whisky in the warehouse sold in 1932.
Balblair was commandeered in 1939 by the British Army and it must have seemed like the sites distilling days were gone for good but at the end of the war, the Army moved out and the government began to encourage distillers to return to production, viewing the export of scotch as much needed income for a country deep in debt. Balblair was purchased in 1948 by Robert James Cummings, owner of Old Pulteney distillery in Wick, and was soon producing its distinctive spirit once more. Cummings would later sell to Hiram Walker in 1970 before the Canadian distiller was itself absorbed by Allied Distillers.
The current owner Inver House acquired the distillery in 1996, adding it to an impressive portfolio which also included Pulteney, Speyburn, Knockdhu and Balmenach. In 2007, they took the brave decision to relaunch Balblair as a series of ‘vintage’ bottlings, eschewing the traditional ‘age statement’ favoured by most distillers at the time. Despite the new range proving popular amongst connoisseurs however, the decision was reversed in early 2019, with a shift back to an age stated core range comprising of 12, 15, 18 and 25 year old expressions.
In this review however I’ll be looking at something a little different. This single malt comes not from Inver House, but from the famous Gordon & MacPhail of Elgin, retailer, independent bottler and owner of Benromach distillery. Aged for 10 years, this ‘MacPhail’s Collection‘ Balblair was bottled at 43% and retailed at around £35 a bottle.
Smell: Malt and Cereal notes, Barley Flour, Heather Honey, Buttery Pastry and Vanilla with some Apple and Citrus.
Taste: Caramel and Toffee, Apple and Pear, Vanilla, Malt, touch of Salt and subtle Peppery Oak.
Thoughts: The MacPhails Collection was discontinued in 2018 to be replaced by Gordon & MacPhails new ‘Discovery’ range which is a shame really, because they offered some really nice, budget-friendly single malts that always carried age statements and came at affordable prices.
This was a good example of the quality of spirit being produced at Balblair distillery. It sadly lacks the higher bottling strength of official distillery offerings, meaning it comes across a little lighter on the palate but the depth of flavour is still good enough to make it a rewarding purchase. Not sure if there are any of these still out on shelves somewhere but if there are, you could do a lot worse than pick one up while you can.