The first Balblair distillery was built by the Ross family near Edderton in 1790, but in 1872 production was shifted to a new site next to the (then new) railway line which linked Wick to Inverness. The Ross family ran the site for its first 100 years, before Alexander Cowan took charge, but like so many distilleries it suffered at the start of the 20th century and was closed in 1911. Balblair only reopened after WWII when Churchill set out his edict that whisky needed to be made and exported to the US.
Robert ‘Bertie’ Cumming, the owner of Old Pulteney, bought the silent site and ran it until 1970 when Canadian distiller Hiram Walker took over before it was absorbed into what became Allied Distillers. The latter firm sold it on to the enterprising Inver House in 1996. Bottlings had been intermittent – Balblair Elements was released in 2000 – but in 2007, Inver House radically repackaged the single malt and, taking a leaf from Glenrothes’ book, began bottling it in ’vintage’ releases. From being a pretty much unknown malt, the new look and the quality of the liquid were both revelatory.
Balblair used to release their whisky by vintage, but in April 2019 they started to release a core range of age statement whiskies. This includes but is not limited to a 12, 15, 18 and 25 year old. The aim here is to produce a richly fruity new make character, meaning clear worts, long fermentation in wooden washbacks before distillation in small, stumpy stills. This produces a sulphury or meaty note to the new make spirit. In time this does two things: the sulphur lifts to show the delicate fruits behind, while the meatiness changes to add sweet toffee notes and, after extended ageing, a notable spiciness. Like most sulphury sites, time is required for this to happen.