In the summertime

October 8th, 2009

Who is it that sang ‘Summertime and the living is easy’? Nina Simone perhaps? Or Billie Holiday? Maybe both. Well, that’s certainly been true here. On the one hand we’ve just had a Shutdown on production. On the other we’ve never worked harder!

Shutdown is an essential time at Balblair. Particularly, if we’re to keep producing what we know is one of Scotland’s highest quality drams.

The official ‘To do’ list on my desk this summer was as long as the Dornoch Firth.

The Mash tun needed its plates tightening up. (This keeps the wort clearer as solids and draff don’t get through.) The Wash still and Spirit still needed to be pressure-tested for insurance purposes. And then there was the water line.

If there’s one thing a good whisky needs, it’s good water. And for good water you need good pipes. The Balblair water line had to be ‘pigged’. Don’t worry, this didn’t involve any form of porcine-based cruelty. The ‘pigs’ in question are, in fact, foam blocks that help remove build up.

Once all this was finally achieved production began again in earnest at 10pm on Sunday16th August. They say there’s no rest for the wicked and they’re right. We won’t be stopping now until the annual Christmas and New Year Shutdown.

Summer has seen a number of important visitors to Balblair, including a family of Swallows over the fields that border the lane to the distillery.

Our most welcome visitor of all, however, was an old friend. Nan Burnett (nee Cumming). Nan is the daughter of our former owner Bertie Cumming. She didn’t arrive alone, either. Archie her husband, himself a former director and her grandson were also in attendance. Nan very generously donated memorabilia from her father’s time at the distillery that are now on proud display.

While we’re on the topic of Balblair’s very own ‘hall of fame’ a deserved mention to the two John Ross’s who are operators here. Both have passed their15 year service mark. A remarkable achievement. I’d like to personally thank them both for their dedication, loyalty and friendship. Team players to a man.

Speaking of team players, in August we were invited down to Liverpool.

Or more specifically to Everton F.C, the English Premier League football team.

Chang Beer is the shirt sponsor and also part of our parent company. It was flattering to learn that at Goodison Park, Balblair is the whisky serve of choice.

Our Assistant Manager Graeme was the lucky guy who got to give the talks and tastings to staff and other sponsors. The climax of the visit, of course, was on Saturday itself and match day - the first game of the new Premiership season.

Graeme and a group VIPs settled down in their luxury Chang Executive Box for a display of footballing virtuosity. Which they duly got. But not quite in the manner they were hoping for.

The Blues got thrashed 6-1 by the relentless attack of an outstanding Arsenal. ‘It’s a funny old game’, indeed.

As for me? Well, I’ve been off on my travels to Whisky Live Paris at the Pavillon Gabriel. This is my third year in a row with Balblair and I love meeting my many friends and making some new ones. Paris is always a very pleasurable whirlwind, and, of course, it means another excuse to spread the Balblair word!

Au revior.

John

Clear days ahead.

August 4th, 2009

Hello again from Balblair.

At last, the weather’s starting to feel more like summer. And, I can now enjoy the blue skies and beautiful scenery without my glasses. You see (no pun intended) I’ve had laser treatment. It’s great, but I still find myself reaching for my glasses when I wake up. Old habits and all that.

We’ve recently had the pleasure of sampling for the next Vintage to follow the 1989. I’m pleased to announce that it’ll be a 1991 (superb on the nose and a great Balblair taste).

So what else has been happening? Myself and Assistant Manager Graeme have been getting to grips with a slegehammer. We recently moved an old yeast fridge and expanded the area in the malt barns to make room for the growing numbers of visitors.

And, last month, we were pleased to welcome no fewer than 136 guests to the distillery. Including Boris & Janina  Hessenauer from Germany (see pic. below). They’re big fans of both whisky and Scotland. In fact, Boris wears a kilt and even plays the bagpipes.

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Our annual North v South golf match took place (against our southern compatriots at Boat of Garten).  Unfortunately we lost. But, I definitely think we should check their handicap certificates! Still, an excellent day was had by all.

Anyway, it’s all pretty quiet around here just now. That’s because our annual summer shutdown has just begun. As you’d expect, all the boys in the distillery have been looking forward to a four week break. We’ll be doing a bit of maintenace work. But, the time off will give us all a chance to re-charge our batteries and get ready for the second half of the year.

Speak soon.

John

More great Vintages arrive at Balblair.

May 12th, 2009

Hello again. Sorry I didn’t manage to put pen to paper (or, to be more precise, fingers to keyboard) during April. As ever, we’ve been pretty busy up here at the distillery. Mainly, welcoming lots of visitors from as far afield as New Zealand and Japan (keen to see for themselves how Balblair is created).

And, in April, a different type of vintage arrived at the distillery. The classic car. As part of the Scottish Malts Reliability Trial, a total of 60 vintage cars arrived from all over of the world. We were treated to a selection of pristine Astons, Jags, Porsches and many more. But, the oldest car of the lot was a beautiful 1927 Lancia.

It’s just a shame that one 1955 Aston Martin had to make the long journey home (to Germany) on the back of a repair truck. Still, it was a day to remember. The sight of so many classic cars driving through Edderton village is one that will stay with me for many years to come.

So, what else has been happening? Well, the distillery was shut down for a week over Easter for some maintenance. (The mill and boiler were serviced, the stills had copper thickness tests, and the chimney was repaired and painted.)

All the operators had a week’s holiday. And some of the guys chose to go away (ranging from a cruise in the Med to braving the winds of Orkney). Personally, with the warmer spring weather bringing much of the landscape to blossom, I was more than happy to stay at home and enjoy the view.

Regular readers will be glad to hear that Graeme’s wife, Astrid, completed her week long walk on the Great Wall of China in aid of MacMillan Cancer Support. Well done to her. And, she’s asked me to pass on her thanks to everyone who very kindly helped her to raise just under £4,000.

Finally, Balblair is on the road again. We’ll be in Belguim this June (5th to the 7th), at the Whisky Festival in Kortrijk. Our resident jetsetter, Assistant Manager Graeme, is attending. But, this time he’s going as purely as a tourist.

Luckily for Graeme, he’s made many friends in Belgium through working at these kind of Festivals. And, this year, Graeme’s been invited over by one of the organisers (Tom Deleersnyder). Knowing Graeme, he’ll still end up helping the team anyway. But, I don’t think he ever finds it too difficult persuading people to try Balblair!

Until next time,

John

Great weather for distilling.

March 20th, 2009

Hello. Just when we thought that January’s cold snap was over, we’ve all been reaching for our winter woolies again. Temperatures up here have remained low during February. And, we even had a bit of snow fall just the other day. Still, it’s good distilling weather I suppose.

While the world comes to terms with a new US President and a rather bleak looking economy, we’ve had some rather more simple issues to deal with. Parts of the distillery have had a new lick of paint for a start. And, there are one or two other refurbishment projects on the go just now. After all, we do like to make sure the place looks its best in time for any visitors arriving (and more people do tend to visit around this time of year).

Talking of visitors, in February, we were delighted to welcome Mr Steve Buckley, the British Ambassador for Trade and Industry in Thailand. He certainly seemed very impressed with the distillery (and even more so with our fine single malt Whisky).

We also welcomed Spanish customers and a couple of journalists from a Spanish drinks magazine, who were featuring Balblair in an article on single malt whiskies. Our continental friends definitely enjoyed themselves, despite the chilly weather.

Assistant Manager Graeme has been off jet-setting recently. He visited a popular Whisky Festival in Ghent, Belgium. I’m glad to report that the Balblair stand was very busy. So much so in fact, that we sold out of 1997 and 1989. What’s more, three bottles of our extremely rare 1965 were also snapped up.

Whilst on the trip, Graeme visited a specialist whisky bar in Ghent town centre, called Glengarry. He was pleased to find a very impressive stock of over 3000 whiskies behind the bar (including Balblair of course).

And when the owner, Bob Minekeer, found out that Graeme was from Balblair, they discussed the finer points of the Balblair Vintages over a couple of drams of 1997. Apparently, Bob really knew his stuff and made a superb host. His bar is obviously a place worth visiting.

Until next time,

John

Hello again from a rather frosty Edderton.

February 6th, 2009

 

This winter’s definitely been one of the coldest for a while, with temperatures reaching as low as –8. So, it’s no wonder we’ve had to deal with burst pipes. And replace a frozen section of an outdoor water pipe (a great job to be doing on New Year’s Day!).

Anyway, after the festive season, production here started again briskly on Sunday 4th January. This year’s malted barley crop seems to be better yielding than 2008. And, we’re already ahead of our target. Which is great news, as the production required is up on last year (good to know demand is as popular as ever).

This February marks a milestone in history for one of our workers. I’m proud to announce that Martin MacDonald celebrates his 30th year working at Balblair, making him our longest-serving employee. I’m sure all the boys will raise a glass of our finest to toast Martin and recognise his contribution to the distillery.

And it seems to be a popular time for celebrations. Workers Alan More, John G Ross and Michael Ross have all recently had birthdays. I won’t tell you their age. Let’s just say that two of them will not see 40 again.

Finally, we had some visitors up from the ‘Deep south’ recently. In case you were wondering, that means Edinburgh and Glasgow. In fact, the group included the team that make our ads (The Leith Agency). They were here for a tour, tasting and overnight stay in our local hotel, The Edderton Inn. Myself and Assistant Manager, Graeme, really do like to show people round and let them sample Balblair for themselves.

We all enjoyed an outstanding meal at the hotel, and we’d like to thank Chris and Isi Wix for the friendly hospitality shown to our guests. And, considering the amount sampled by Mike & Fletch from The Leith, it’s just as well that production is up this year!

Until next time,

John

P.S. If you ever fancy seeing the distillery and enjoying a few drams for yourself, you can always come and visit us. Just get in touch with myself or Graeme to arrange a tour.

Festive greetings to you.

December 19th, 2008

Production here finished on Wednesday 9th December (which normally happens around this time every year). And we produced 1.31million litres of whisky. This is really good news, because we’ve met our target.

But that doesn’t mean that all the guys are sitting around doing nothing. They wish! In fact, they’ve been busy restowing casks in the warehouses to make room for next years fillings.

This Friday (19th December) sees the start of our festive break. Of course, things don’t shut down completely over Christmas. Myself, and Assistant Manager Graeme, will take it in turns to fire the boiler every day over the festive shutdown.

It certainly seems like the party season is already in full swing. It was the distillery Christmas dance on Friday 5th December. And a great night was finished off with a plenty of enthusiastic dancing (particularly by Derek “twinkle toes” Sinclair!).

And, the Balblair boys’ Christmas day out is fast approaching too. So watch out if you’re Ten Pin Bowling in Inverness on Tuesday 23rd December. I hate to think where the bowling balls will end up as the evening progresses.

Last Saturday we held a Balblair Masterclass for locals here at the distillery. This was in aid of MacMillan Cancer Support. And on the subject of MacMillan, Graeme’s wife, Astrid, is doing a sponsored walk to raise money for the charity next April. But this will be no walk in the park. She’ll actually be walking along part of the Great Wall of China. That’s sure to be quite an experience.

The Christmas break finally comes to an end on Sunday 4th January. That’s when production for 2009 begins. And another year gets underway.

I’ll be putting up a new blog sometime in January. Where I’ll tell you all the stories from over Christmas and into the New Year.

In the meantime, I’d like to wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
All the best,
John

P.S. Here are a few dates for your diary (where you can see and hear about Balblair).
Ghent Whisky Festival, Belgium 14th, 15th Feb – with Graeme Bowie, Balblair Assistant Manager.
Whisky Live, Tokyo 20th, 21st, 22nd Feb – with Stuart Harvey, Master Blender.
Whisky Live, London 26th, 27th, 28th Feb.

Inter-Whisky Hamburg, end of Feb.

Nov 2008

November 19th, 2008

Hello again

 My aopologies for taking so long to talk to you again.

Myself and colleagues from  Inverhouse recently attended WhiskyLive Glasgow and as usual we were a very busy stand.The masterclass was hugely enjoyable and a lot of fun. A lot of interest was shown in our recently launched limited edition 1965 vintage - only 350 bottles and I have to say it is outstanding. The quality of casks we have in the warehouse here at Balblair continue to amaze me.

We are well on course to meet our production target for 2008 and should finish up a week before planned. All credit to the guys at Balblair. I am very fortunate to have such a dedicated team.

 My assistant, Graeme Bowie, is in Portugal as we speak delivering a presentation to the Single Malt Whisky Club. I’m sure they will enjoy it.

 I travel to Frankfurt on the 21st for the whisky festival there. This is a very busy event but always most enjoyable. German beer too!

 The visitors to the distillery just keep coming! This is great for us as it tells me more and more people are discovering what a wonderful dram it is we make here.

 Have packed a copy of Robin Jenkins’ “The Cone Gatherers” to read as I travel. I read this some time ago and it is a tremendous story that I would recommend to everybody. Set in Scotland with a similar theme to Steinbecks’ “Of Mice and Men”. Tremendous imagery and a story I think would make a great film.

 My guitar playing has dropped off lately as I manged to slice my fingers with an axe while cutting logs. Make do with a harmonica for now!

Until next time.

All the best.

John.

Match of the day

September 5th, 2008

Bonar Bridge Football Club

A beautiful dram meets the beautiful game.We recently had the pleasure of donating logo’d tracksuits to local footballing legends Bonar Bridge F.C. The only condition is that they now have to win the league, all cups and concede absolutely no yellow or red cards. Balblair and Bonar Bridge. By far the greatest team the world has ever seen!

Back in Production!

August 20th, 2008

Hello again.

 Our annual four week shut-down is now over and we are once again producing at Balblair.

We are in the process of redecorating the production areas of the plant and it is starting to come together. The wash still and the spirit still have been stripped and relacquered and they look wonderful.

 All the staff had a day out at Tain Golf club last Friday and a good day was had by all.

We had a round of golf followed by an excellent meal at the club.  We then toured Tain and partook of one or two “refreshments”.

 Visitors to the distillery are becoming more and more frequent which is always good to see. No doubt this has been helped by our much publicised International Whisky Distiller of The Year Award.

Bye for now.

 John.

Alexander Cowan’s descendants visit Balblair

May 26th, 2008

It was a great pleasure to have the great grand-daughters of Alexander Cowan visit Balblair on the 6th of May. Alexander Cowan ran the distillery from 1894 to 1911. It was while researching their family tree that Sheila and her sister discovered their great grandfathers invovement with the distillery and decided to pay a visit. There was much to talk about and after a tour of the distillery the full Balblair vintage range was tasted. A good day was had by all.

Purely by coincidence the nephew of Bertie Cummings (owwner of Balblair from 1948 to 1970) arrived at the distillery the very next day!

It is always nice to meet people with a connection to the distillery’s past and hope to see them again in the future.