Recently, I visited the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Queen Street branch, as outlined in my Balmenach versus Glenlossie article. Another pick up from the recent outturn and exploration of bourbon cask releases was this bizarrely named Do Androids Dream of Eclectic Sheep. There’s very little substance in these SMWS names in reality, and I’m in the camp of who cares. More important, are the value and contents; anything else is mere window dressing.
An apt link into Blair Athol provides the whisky we’re reviewing today. Situated on the edge of Pitlochry, it is very much a tourist destination, thanks to its convenient location and traditional exterior and courtyard layout. Whilst not as impressive as Tormore or as visually delightful as Strathisla, Blair Athol is a snug fit into what you would expect an authentic distillery to symbolise. As such, bus loads of visitors arrive on a daily basis, making this small distillery (by Diageo standards) its most popular, with over 75,000 visitors during 2017. Just a few years prior, Blair Athol was averaging around 35K annually, which shows the current tourism boom that Diageo is keen to tap into by upgrading many of its distilleries across Scotland.
Assisting such numbers is the linkage with the Bell’s blended Scotch whisky brand. This is a justified link due to the previous owners of the distillery, and to this day, Blair Athol continues to support mostly blends. You’ll rarely see a single cask of Blair Athol available via the independent bottlers, as over 99% of its annual output goes towards supporting its master’s blends. Much of the remaining stock helps support the distillery exclusives that prove attractive to the growing numbers of visitors. However, we have built up a handy small selection of Blair Athol reviews on MALT.
There is a sense that we can easily dismiss Blair Athol, as it is mainly fit only for blends. Such an impression is wasteful and lacks insight into the qualities that its whisky can provide in later years of maturation. Whenever I see a Blair Athol on an outturn or shelf, I’m immediately interested; it can be a malty, cereal-based with tea-like and herbal qualities endearing itself to many blenders. It has a more complex and challenging portfolio of characteristics compared to its Speyside neighbours, who are generally more approachable.
Blair Athol is, after all, a Highland whisky, and you can forget this given how far south it seems from the more illustrious names of the Highland region such as Ben Nevis, Balblair and Clynelish. However, the taste profile and difficulty at times extracting that sense of enjoyment are pure Highland characteristics in my book. And my favourite whisky region has to be the Highlands, although I’ll admit that Campbeltown retains a special place in my heart, as it does for many enthusiasts.
This Blair Athol was distilled on 2nd August 2006, bottled at 12 years of age from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. This provided 282 bottles at 55.8% strength. It’ll cost you £54.20 from the SMWS in what is a commission-free link. Time, then, to see what that name is all about. Truth or fiction, or more bollocks from the SMWS tasting panel?
SMWS 68.26 Do Androids Dream of Eclectic Sheep – review
Colour: pale as, let’s say, lime juice.
On the nose: Malted milk biscuits, honey and wine gums with whipped cream. There’s an odd astringent element, almost vinegary, but it pulls back at the last moment—interesting. It feels quite dense and hard to pin down; unusual. Lots of cereals, vanilla custard and buttery popcorn. Oily, beeswax and a mineral-flint-like aspect as well.
In the mouth: a white combination of white chocolate, jelly sweeties, cooking apples and creamed corn. Tarragon and juicy fruits element trying to break through. Kindling, limes and lemon oil bring a new spectrum as does the arrival of Kiwi fruit.
A pleasant and original nose reminds us what Blair Athol can do outwith the limited official range. A collection of releases that do little to highlight its wares. Arguably these only exist to quench the thirst of the tour buses that descend on this accessible slice of distilling without probing too deeply into the Highlands. An unsual malt on the palate. A little funky, a little distorted, and perhaps bottled before its journey was complete.
The name is as ridiculous as the journey itself. Perhaps this offers the sense of symmetry with the liquid experience. A very distinctive release that won’t be for everyone, or even a small proportion of onlookers. You have to possess a desire to unearth and form an appreciation of such a whisky. This is, after all, what single cask releases are all about. The temptation would have been to do a vatting and therefore erase – or hide – such an unusual character, thereby scrubbing clean the canvas and leaving a new impression, a more vibrant and welcoming image. I’d rather have the original format anytime, and this is what still drives me to say the pinnacle of whisky is the single cask format.
Do I love it? No, but I don’t hate it either. There’s a certain charm in its delinquency. A difficult one to score, in reality, as it’s not the best Blair Athol I’ve had; still, you could argue it is the least Blair Athol cask I’ve had from this distillery. Hmmmm.