Warm Welcome to Balblair's Home
Welcome back. This is the first of a series of guest articles written for the Balblair Blog by some of the most interesting people in the whisky world. The first guest contributor is a whisky word-smith, a cyclist, an adventurer and a great friend of everyone here at Balblair. Earlier this year he spent some time with us, working alongside the team and gaining a unique insight into the Balblair ways. Without further ado, we give you James Saxon.
Balblair is one well-travelled whisky. From Arizona to Zurich it’s possible to bump into a pebble-shaped bottled of this fey but frisky malt, a single whiff of which will lure the senses back to a tiny pocket of the world where the clouds are seldom still in the pure Highland air. Here you will find the Balblair distillery, between the Dornoch Firth and the Struie Hills, where skilled men and women have for more than 200 years constructed a spirit of such precocious personality it dictates to John MacDonald, distillery manager, when peak excellence has been reached and its escapades away from Edderton, Ross-shire, must begin.
Wherever you savour Balblair single malt, be it in the United States or Switzerland, it is impossible to mistake the spirit’s seductive invitation, delivered in a strong Highland accent. ‘This is where I come from,’ it whispers. ‘Pay me a visit at home.’
Until last week it was possible to take this charming little distillery up on its offer, but turning up had the feel of interrupting Christmas dinner. A warm welcome would have been forthcoming, and an enlightening couple of hours guaranteed, but whisky-making could not be neglected for too long. Now, however, the front room has been vacuumed, the cushions plumped up and the kettle is on for your arrival.
In November, alongside a horde of illustrious bloggers and journalists, I attended the Balblair Brand Home house-warming – a cup of coffee immediately pressed into my hand. The former floor maltings have been refurbished in some style, but without all the tartan, fudge and antique distilling equipment you find in some visitor centres. Instead, “family photographs” hang over the new paint job and show the men who make the spirit, and who in times past may have shepherded you around the distillery when not checking wash densities, taking hydrometer readings and other important things like that. There is also one of Julie Ross, who has assumed full tour guide responsibilities and will give you her undivided attention as you explore busy Balblair.
The central section of the space has been partitioned off with glass walls describing the Balblair timeline and onto which novel but evocative multimedia displays are projected which contextualise the moments in time surrounding each of the core range of vintages. I smiled to think that the 1989 vintage was also the Balblair ‘Berlin Wall’. As the new brand film makes plain: ‘every bottle of Balblair captures the essence of its distillation year.’
In the adjoining room there is the chance for you, the visitor, to capture the essence of your own moments at Balblair Distillery. A single cask dominates the shop space, John MacDonald’s pick from the neighbouring dunnage warehouses. Grab one of those buxom pebble-shaped bottles, fill with delicious golden spirit, cork, label and seal. Take it as a reward for your dedication in making it to the northern reaches of Scotland – for taking the time to discover something different. Savour it and appreciate Balblair’s unique flavour as you recall the impeccable hospitality of this once shy distillery. Balblair is at home. Come and visit.