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The history of Black Bottle
Black Bottle is a blended Scotch whisky that first launched in Aberdeenshire in 1879. Founding brothers Charles, David and Gordon Graham sought to branch out from their family tea blending business and decided to try their hand at blending whisky instead. The outcome of their endeavours was eventually released in an eye-catching black glass bottle that would earn it the name it still holds today. This bottle design remained in place until the breakout of war ended the supply of black glass from Germany, meaning from 1914 onwards the famous Black Bottle was, in fact, green.
Under the stewardship of its founders, the Black Bottle blend gained a reputation for quality but, following the brand’s sale to Schenley Industries inc. in 1959 this reputation began to suffer. Standards dropped and the brand slowly fell out of favour with whisky drinkers.
The 1990s would see a revival in the brand’s fortunes. When Burn Stewart acquired it along with Bunnahabhain distillery in 1999 they made a bold decision to drastically re-invent the blend. While Black Bottle had traditionally featured mostly Speyside malts, it had always carried more than a hint of smoke. Burn Stewart decided to enhance this smoky character with a new, Islay-centric recipe that featured malt from all 7 of the island’s working distilleries.
In the years that followed, Black Bottle became known as something of a character blend and inspired a dedicated following. However, things don’t stand still for long in the whisky industry and in 2013, the owners decided once again to alter the recipe of the blend, this time returning, at least in part, to its Speyside origins, while retaining a little of the smoke it had become known for. Along with this new expression came new packaging and a long-overdue return to traditional black glass.
Smell: Maybe not as smoky as it once was but there is still Peat here, along with the coastal Brine and Sea Salt notes of Bunnahabhain. There’s also Fudge, Golden Syrup, Caramel, Cream, Vanilla, Apples and Pears.
Taste: Light on the palate with notes of Honeycomb, Spice, Vanilla and Sea Salt with a light touch of Smoke at the end.
Thoughts: Black Bottle usually costs around £20 a bottle but can be found cheaper in some supermarkets – especially if there’s a sale on. For that price, it doesn’t disappoint. I know some people lament the move away from the Islay style but the blend remains one of decent quality. In fact, I’d possibly say it’s one of the better bottom shelf blends you find in UK supermarkets.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.