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    Balblair is one of our oldest single malt whisky distilleries (founded 1790), and one of the prettiest. It also featured in Ken Loach’s awardwinning film The Angels’ Share (2012), as the location for the auction of a cask of extremely rare whisky from Malt Mill Distillery on Islay. The tireless distillery-bagger, Alfred Barnard, remarked in 1887: “In former days the whole neighbourhood abounded in smuggling bothies, and was the scene of many a struggle between the revenue officers and the smugglers”.

    Balblair stands in ‘the Parish of Peats’, Edderton, six miles from Tain in Ross-shire - the current site is some distance from the original and was chosen in the 1870s to take advantage of the newly laid railway line between Inverness and Wick. Edderton is reputed to have the cleanest air in Britain. The founder was one John Ross. Members of his family held the licence and managed the distillery for over a century, and still today nearly half the staff are Rosses: a common name in Ross-shire.

    The Balblair malt was first bottled by its owner, Inver House Distillers, in the late 1990s, and since 2007 has been bottled in limited edition ‘vintages’, with casks selected by the company’s Master Blender, Stuart Harvey, by year, not by age, but with what he describes as a ‘rolling core’ of whiskies around 10, 20 and 30 years old.
    In 1947, Balblair was bought by a solicitor from Banff, Bertie Cumming (who also owned Pulteney Distillery in Wick), and this inspired me to attempt to write up the tasting notes for the 1999 Vintage in the style of P.G. Wodehouse:

    The aunt poured half a teacup of golden liquid into a dainty porcelain receptacle, not much bigger than an egg-cup.
    "China?”, says I.
    "Dear boy, you know I never drink tea in the afternoon. I follow Mr. Churchill's example..."
    This allusion was lost on me. She pushed the cake stand within reach and having missed lunch, I commandeered a brace of cucumber sandwiches (dainty; brown bread and butter) and a slice of Battenburg which, it has to be said, looked as if it had appeared before on the teatable: the marzipan was curling a bit and the pale pink sponge looked dry, but I can never resist old Batters... Only then did I have a sip of 'tea'...
    "I say...", I spluttered. "What have we here?" She said nothing, smiled mysteriously and observed me quizzically through her lorgnette. I addressed the cup again and sniffed it. At that moment a waft of salty sea air floated through the window from the beach and seemed to bring with it the scent of ice cream cornets. Or was this scent coming from the liquid? The taste was sweet, then slightly salty, with a green apple element. "Top hole!", says I. "What on earth is it?"
    Now I was smelling Parma violets - but surely this was the aunt - and a scent of Makassar spirit, as in barbers' shops, as she refilled my cup. "Scotch malt whisky from a distillery called Balblair in the far north of Scotland. Do you approve?"
    "Rather! Must tell Jeeves to get me some."

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