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Issue 44 - Distiller making a spirit of the air (Balblair)

Whisky Magazine Issue 44
November 2004


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Distiller making a spirit of the air (Balblair)

Ian Buxton visits Balblair

As the internal arrangements and vessels are like the other distilleries in the district, it is not worthwhile to recapitulate them” commented an unusually blunt Alfred Barnard on his visit to Balblair.

Though we might admire the brevity of this approach, Alf's somewhat taciturn description belies the interest to be found for today's visitor at this attractive little distillery.

Not least are the wonderful archives, with the earliest history of the distillery preserved in the original sales ledgers.

The original Balblair distillery was founded in 1790, and sales records survive from 1800. The first entry is prefaced: “John Ross Christopher, Tacksman of Balblair, January 25th 1800” and we can see that his first sale was “to David Kircaldy at Ardmore one gallon of whisky at £1.8.0d”. That's around four litres of whisky at a cost of £1.40 in today's measures.

Later the distillery offered a range of qualities: double strong whisky is noted at 4/6 per pint; spirit is 3/6 per pint and dram whisky is 3/3 per pint – or about 16 pence for around a half litre. Say 22 pence for the equivalent of today's 70cl bottle! Some quick arithmetic suggests that either Mr Kircaldy was getting a decent quantity discount or he wasn't buying the good stuff.

“Ardmore” being a neighbouring farm, perhaps it was just for his labourers. Mind you, the local minister ran up a bill for over £15 which he had to pay off in instalments. Presumably his sermons were not on the evils of str...

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