Balblair Distillery rests in a Pictish battlefield on the shores of the Dornoch Firth in the tiny village of Edderton. Dolphins play in the water nearby, seals sun themselves on sandbanks, and swallows inhabit the pagoda during the summer, using the beams as nests for their fledglings.
As one of the oldest distilleries, it’s history is the history of the area, speaking to the closeness of the people in the Highlands. Your first impression is how picturesque it is, and your first view comes when drive down it’s almost hidden driveway, with small cottages on either side, and horses and sheep grazing in the fields nearby.
Very traditional in style, and built with indigenous sandstone that reflects the colours of it’s surroundings with flecks of golds and creams. The buildings are exactly how you would envision a distillery to resemble.
The reception area is in the front building, and with a log fire burning, sofas for visitors to sit on, and photos of old distillery men and letters on the wall, it’s almost as if you are at home. All this adds to the family aura that emanates from Balblair. There is a very natural and relaxed feel to the whole distillery and the staff are welcoming and open.
Your tour starts in the visitor’s centre in what was the old malting house. The shop itself used to be the fridge where they kept the yeast. To start with, the guide will show you a short video of the history of Balblair, it’s various incarnations, different owners, and it will explain how unlike most Distilleries, Balblair waits until the Whisky says it is ready to be drunk. The labels on the bottles reflecting this by having the date the Whisky was laid down in cask.
Afterwards the tour moves onto a detailed description of the Whisky making process, and a full and comprehensive tour of the distillery and it’s Washbacks, onion Stills, Mill and all the machines in-between. Quite often on the tour a train will rumble past, adjacent to the Stillhouse, reminding you there was once a siding at the Distillery itself that brought coal and supplies right to the door.
Heading back to the shop and tasting cube at the end, you will receive a dram of beautiful whisky and if you are feeling adventurous, maybe more than one. As you taste, you can tell that the Whisky has been left to become the most beautiful version of itself.
In 2011 Ken Loach brought his film crew to the Balblair to film The Angel’s Share. Most of the Distillery staff, and half of the village were in the movie, and it has drawn a lot of the extra visitors to what is the hidden gem of the Highlands. A tour set apart, photos are allowed throughout, and Balblair pride themselves on detail, and tailoring their tour to your needs.
To taste Balblair, is to taste the very fields she lies upon. The Whisky takes everything from the land that surrounds it, honey from the hive, citrus from the trees, spice from the cask, and roundness from the stills.
A visit to Balblair is a visit to the very history of Scottish Whisky making. A well rounded, and highly recommended tour and tasting.
© Gabrielle Balfour 2016