The Name – ‘Blair Athol’
"Blair Athol" comes from the Gaelic, ‘Blar Ath Fhoda’ which translates into the English as ‘The Plain of the New Ireland’.
Scots were a Celtic people who originated in northern Ulster, and
landed on the west of ‘Scotland’ during the sixth century BC,
establishing the kingdom of Dalriada. From Dalriada, ‘Scots’ would have
emigrated to the more fertile plains of Pictland, especially the lands
of Ath Fotla, and this is probably when the name ‘Second Ireland’
originated. Thus the name Blar Ath Fhodla came into being, which today
is know as ‘Blair Athol’
(History notes by David McNicoll)In The Beginning
Athol Distillery lies on the site of the original Aldour farm, between
the lands of Picts and Scots, in the very heart of Scotland.
the early 1700’s, many local farms distilled whisky in the winter. In
1746, the Highland laird, Robertson of Faskally, fleeing from redcoats,
hid in the nearby oak and later gained strength from the whisky of
Aldour became an active distillery in 1798 and by
the early nineteenth century there were thirty distilleries in the
area. At that time punitive excise duties, due to the Napoleonic wars,
encouraged illicit distilling and smuggling. Government legislation in
1823 sought to curb these illegalities by reducing levels of duty and
regulating distillery and warehouse practices.
revived the distillery and registered with a license in 1825. In the
same year, Thomas Sandeman opened a small shop in the Kirkgate, Perth –
the future of which was linked inextricably with Aldour, soon to be
known as Blair Athol Distillery.
Also linked with Perth,
Alexander Conacher, said to be descended from the admirer of the “Fair
Maid of Perth” took over the license of Blair Athol Distillery in 1826
and the premises were improved and enlarged over the next fifty years.Arthur Bell
in 1837, a young man, Arthur Bell, became employed as a traveller at
the small shop in the Kirkgate and by 1851 had become a partner with
the successor to Thomas Sandeman. Arthur Bell was now visiting
distilleries and experimenting with blending, using Blair Athol whisky.
Distillery Investment and Growth
1860, impressed by the whisky and the potential of the distillery, the
firm of Messrs. P. Mackenzie took over Blair Athol and invested heavily.
large granaries, each with concrete steps, were built, together with
two malt floors and a peat-fired kiln. Labour saving machinery and
modernised plant with copper stills, iron mashtun and underback,
refrigerator and washbacks, and a spirit receiver were all renewed. Now
the distillery was producing 1500 gallons per week, maturing in five
bonded warehouses with a capacity of 80 – 100,000 gallons.
The 1880’s were bringing a mood of expansion both to Blair Athol Distillery and Arthur Bell’s of Perth.
The distillery expanded to cover over two and a half acres and production was maintained at optimum levels.
sons of Arthur Bell, Arthur Kinmond and Robert, wished the firm to
expand through advertising and the use of brand names. Their father was
reluctant to advertise as “the quality of my goods speak for
themselves”, but he allowed Robert to go to Australia to promote.
1895 “Bell’s and Sons” was established. Before Arthur Bell died in
1900, names such as “Scotch Fir” and “Colleen Old Scotch Whisky” had
been used. However, it was in 1904 when “Curler Whisky” had “Arthur
Bell and Son’s Extra Special Old Scotch Whisky, Perth N.B. est 1825” on
the label. First World War and the Depression
the First World War broke out, the male staff at Blair Athol Distillery
and at Arthur Bell and Sons went to war. The men were given a free
bottle of whisky before they went to war and this was reflected by the
now well known phrase “afore ye go” on the label.
The women made
the whisky, bottled and promoted it, but the prices rose and when
prohibition hit the USA in 1920, the sales of whisky slumped.
depression in the thirties finally caused the closure of the distillery
in 1932, and in Perth, Arthur Bell and Sons Ltd declared losses for the
first time in the history of their business. After the dark days of
recession, prohibition ended in the USA and world recession lessened.Arthur Bell & Sons Purchase Blair Athol Distillery
long standing relationship between Blair Athol Malt Whisky and Arthur
Bell and Sons Ltd was now to be formalised. A friendly take-over and
the price of £56,000 secured the Blair Athol license. The connections,
which P. Mackenzie had with the USA from pre-prohibition days, were
also a valued asset.Second World War
1939 severe trade losses began at Blair Athol due to the lack of raw
materials for production and the distillery was closed until the end of
the war. During the war, the first Bell’s rep – Jimmy Ward, performed
manfully despite the difficult conditions of the home market. Export of
blended whisky for the war effort continued and this kept business
In 1942 Arthur Kinmond Bell and, later, Robert
both died. W.G. Farquharson was promoted to Chairman. When he visited
Blair Athol he fell in love with the ideal distillery. In 1945 forty
five percent of production was resumed.
Farquharson employed a
traditional architect to satisfy his perfectionist vision of his ideal
distillery. The total cost of restoration was £75,000 and in November
1949 distilling started.Later Years
1970, two additional stills were added. In 1975 the Dark Grains Plant
was built and a reception facility for trade entertainment constructed.
distillery plant upgrading in 1987 was followed by the development of a
professionally designed visitor centre, which was opened by Alan
Deveraux, Chairman of the Scottish Tourist Board.
In addition to
the distillery upholding the production of handcrafted spirit, the
centre has become a central tourist attraction, a superb public
relations vehicle for trade and company guests, and also a small but
comfortable conference facility.Today
the theme of the centre continues to emphasise the bond between Blair
Athol Single Malt and the Bell’s 8 Year Old blend. Guided tours of the
distillery are available which include a taste of the Blair Athol 12
Year Old Singe Malt.
The Visitor Centre Shop now stocks a wide
range of Single Malt Whiskies starting at £9 (20cl) up to £950 a bottle
and a selection of Diageos other big name brands such as Bell’s,
Baileys, Gordon’s Gin, Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff Vodka.