Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Review: Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky
Spring is here! The birds are chirpin' and the sun actually is warming as it shines down on my pointed head. There may be a nip in the air and my lawn is still recovering from winter kill, but these are merely telltale signs that another season of golf is about to begin!
There are two scotch whiskies that I associate with this time of year. Glenfiddich 12 years and Black Bottle. Why? Many years ago, in the very early Spring, I played a round of golf on a very cold and windy day. When I and some friends shook hands on the 18th hole following our inaugural round of the season, I was spent. Wind burnt face, tired and in dire need of something to warm me up, and not knowing anything about scotch, I ordered the only malt in the clubhouse: Glenfiddich 12 years.
It warmed me up, made me think of pine needles and to this day I can remember it like yesterday. Just one of those moments I have never forgotten. Some people can tell you the price they paid for their first car, not me, finances are a blur, details that do not interest me. Ask me when I first tried this or that scotch and I will give you a level of detail that might make you question whether I have just gone completely over the deep end. We all have our callings. Forensic accountants attention for detail is valued a helluva a lot more by society than mine.
So, because of that first experience, Glenfiddich is invariably the choice malt, an ol' favorite for that first golf outing of the year. But, after the first round, there will be another malt on days of inclement weather. On those wind whipped days, often accompanied by intermittent lashings of rain, it is an Islay that calls my name. Not a single malt, but a blend, a special blend: Black Bottle. In the clubhouse, after 18 holes, I want comfort scotch, warmth and flavor, but not an Islay single malt (ie. Lagavulin) that makes me feel I am wasting it because I am not paying enough attention to it. Hence, Lagavulin and other great Islay are not suitable for such a setting.
Malty! For an Islay blend, I was expecting more smoke and peat, but what I sniff initially is malt. Not bad at all, just a little surprising. After the pleasant malt flavor, the scotch does reveal peat and smoke, but very restrained. This is not a screaming Archie Bunker in Edith's face smoke and peat scenario. No Ardbeg style nose here. This is subdued. It's Ricardo Montalban smoothly talking about the "soft corinthian leather" in that 1975 Chrysler Cordoba advertisement:
The smooth Cordoba ride continues onto the palate with a sweet entry of malt followed by soft smoke and gentle peat. Hardly any peat. This is very soft. Extremely quaffable. A bottle that is disappearing far too quickly! A great introductory blend to anyone who wants to learn about Islay scotch or are convinced that they do not like Islays.
Pencil shavings, malt, cardamon and of course smoke and peat.
In the category of "blended scotch whisky," Black Bottle is outstanding! This scotch whisky has something for everyone. The newbie will delight in the gentle, smooth texture while the scotch nut (like moi) will marvel at the great balance between smoke, peat and sweetness. Damn! this is good! And warming too on those cold blustery days when I walk off the 18th hole!
Note: This is a review of Black Bottle prior to the 2013 relaunch of this iconic blend. Accordingly my tasting notes apply to bottle prior to the 2013 relaunch. The relaunch has changed the flavor profile of this blend considerably. The new bottling places less emphasis on Islay and more on traditional Speyside sherry, dark plum notes. The relaunched version is a shadow of its ancestor. A good article on this can be found here: here
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission except for video cap above that was taken from the 1975 Chrysler Cordoba advertisement as it belongs to the owners of Chrysler. I do not own any rights to the Chrysler Cordoba advertisement which is posted for the purposes of nostalgia and entertainment.
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I am reading this as I sample my very first bottle of Black Bottle. I'm a total scotch noob, but I find that this dram is so approachable and wonderfully interesting that I fear a full bottle is only a couple days worth of whisky! I'm dying to try a side by side blind sampling with Highland Park 12yo. I think there is enough commonality to say that this is a poor mans Highland Park (me being the poorest of scotch enthusiasts).ReplyDelete
I really enjoy your reviews. They are excdeptionally helpful. Thank you and keep up the good work.ReplyDelete
Black Bottle has been recommended to me by a couple different people in the past, but I cannot find it anywhere!ReplyDelete
(sorry have to use anonymous because other options just don't seem to work for me)
Where I come from (Iceland, whisky is VERY expensive here) there is only a 10% price difference between Black Bottle and JW black label. Is Black Bottle worth buying if JW black costs nearly the same?ReplyDelete
Hi! Reader in Iceland. I am surprised that Black Bottle and Johnnie Walker Black are near the same price. I think they are both great blends. I would not describe one as better than the other as they are quite different. Black Bottle obviously emphasizes peat and smoke due to the blend of Islay in it. Johnnie Walker Black tastes in the tradition of what you find firmly in Speyside: Honey cinammon zing with an interesting treatment of smoke, but no peat to speak of.ReplyDelete
Both are great and staples of my liquor cabinet.
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Hi! Dulahey: Try ordering it online. It is true that it is not as widely available as other bottom shelf blends (ie. Teachers), but it is certainly worth the search.
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Hi! Raulston, thanks for the compliment. Thanks for commenting.
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Hi! Anonymous: I think Black Bottle and Highland Park 12 are very different in terms of taste. Both are great but different. But dont worry you will love them both!
Great seeing this reviewed, I keep meaning to pick up a bottle!ReplyDelete
I'm a scotch noob as well, at least from the standpoint of starting to try some real quality scotches recently and enjoying the opening up of a whole new world of experiences. Picked up Black Bottle today and trying it now. For the price it's damn good, but it doesn't blow my socks off. I like the hint of peat. I tried my first Islay recently (Laphroaig 18), and at first it took my aback, and now I love the peat. Black Bottle is definitely more of an exceptionally good (for quaffable scotch) quaffing scotch to me. Thanks for your reviews! I've gotten several bottles recently based on your reviews and you haven't steered me wrong yet. Keep up the great work!ReplyDelete
Hello Swfan1963! Great to hear from you and your impressions of the Black Bottle.ReplyDelete
I am impressed that you liked the Laphroaig 18yrs as a newbie. That is a big Islay. You are definitely the exception to the rule among newbies. Most would not like it because they would find the Islay taste just too much. Since you enjoy it, you are in rarefied company of those who occupy less that 15% of the scotch buying public.
Most consumers (ie. 90%) buy blends. The fact that you appreciate an 18 yr old Islay puts you in the camp of single malt fans.
You deleted your Cutty Sark review. ...Why?ReplyDelete
Hi! I didn't delete my Cutty Sark review. Blogspot was undergoing maintenance by Blogspot and I and other bloggers lost of out content by them. They had some sort of glitch that deleted our posts made during their maintenance.ReplyDelete
I am presently rewriting the Cutty Sark review and it will be up shortly.
The back label mentions that this blend contains malts from each of the Islay distilleries. Amazing whisky that won't cost you an arm and a leg. I paid just under US$24 and I believe that I have had a few single malts in the past that aren't as good as this and trust me... I'm not the first to say that. There is no age statement on the bottle, but there is a 10 year old version available (its discontinued, but you may still be able to find a bottle if you search hard enough). Unlike the 10 year old, this blend does not come packaged in a fancy cardboard box, but the green hour glass shaped bottle stands out from the rest.ReplyDelete
Nose: Sweet syrup, peat, smoke (not over bearing), fruit, slightly creamy and citrusy.It has a very warm, sweet and pleasant scent. I can't get my nose out of it. Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila stand out to me. Very nice!
*Adding a few drops of H2O and letting it settle for a bit does liven it up.
Taste: Peat, smoke, fruit, syrup, balanced grain, and sherry oak .It tastes young, sweet and fresh. This stuff is dangerously smooth!
Finish: You are left with a dry, sweet and toasty oak flavor for about 30 seconds.
Amazing blended whisky! On my top 5 blends for sure! Highly recommend this blend.
The liqour store by my house has a pretty weak and over priced selection of Scotch Whisky's. Living in New York City sucks when it comes to this. Oh how I miss California, but I digress....ReplyDelete
Been sipping on bottles of overpriced White Horse and Famous Grouse. White Horse is actually quite disgusting but In the midst of it's sorn syrup/rapeseed oil entry and finish it does at least have that nice savory burst of brine with some smoke in the middle of the palate, and thus I buy it from that store because I find it at least interesting and the Grouse is an out and out boring blend, and seems more suitable for people who like to make cocktails. On my way home the other day I decided to get out of the subway and walk home. I stumbled upon a non de script liquor and entered just because. Turns out it has a wonderful selection of very decently priced sprits. A great novelty in this city. Purchased some Black Bottle for only $21 (Crappy White Horse costs $25 at the other place just to give some perspective). I have only smelled it (as I have to finish off the White Horse ugh) but I'll report from the bottle, that there is a wonderful vegetative nose. Earthy, grassy, mossy and peaty, all laced with some smoke. Will report back after I've tasted it, but as a budget drinker I am excited.
In the past, I am going back like 20 years, White Horse was a pretty good blended scotch for the price. This was due to the fact that a good portion of the single malt making it up was Lagavulin.
More recently, you and others have complained that it isn't that great.
$25 for White Horse is a lot. In North Carolina it is $18.
I have acquired a bottle and will be doing a review in the next couple of weeks. It will be interesting to see if it is as good as I fondly remember it.
Thanks for commenting!
I realize I never reported back after getting into the Black Bottle. Your are absolutely right that the finish disappears very quickly. In fact, it's all gone before the finish. Disappears halfway down! The peat present is very light. More so than thought it would be, but it's very well balanced throughout. I tried this neat, with some water, and with some ice. I actually preferred it with the ice oddly, I can't say why, and its probably just me, but it brought out a nice crisp sweetness, almost like Jameson, but with a little peat and grass mixed in. For the $20 I got it for I'm pleased. The grain is unavoidable, but it's a good value and when I'm not interested in paying attention to my dram It's comforting to have this in the cabinet. Far better than anything else in it's price range. I have yet to try Teachers though.Delete
wow! i think i've got it pretty good here in my neck of the woods in japan: i can find white horse for about $11 at my favorite large retailer! (it's usually around $16 elsewhere)--and the bargain blend that is teacher's (thanks for the tip, jason!) goes for about $12.50: a very decent value...ReplyDelete
Just tried Black Bottle ... nothing more I can say to add to positive reviews ... Highly recommended.ReplyDelete
I am happy to hear you are enjoying this marvellous blend!Delete
Have you tried Monkey Shoulder (the vatted malt)? How would u rate it in comparison with BB?
I have not tried it yet. I have not been able to find it on any shelves in my travels. It is at the top of my list of blends. I understand it is very good.Delete
I need some help locating BB. I couldn't find it in Florida & Arizona. I checked the TotalWine shops. Do you know where I could find it in AZ?
Try Bevmo http://www.bevmo.com/Delete
They stock Black Bottle and do ship to Arizona.
Thanks a lot!Delete
Hey cousin .... Just purchased my first bottle of Black Bottle post our evening at the Brandy Library and I must say ..... You were right ! This is good stuff ! I was concerned that I was too caught up in a great night of food and drink that anything would have tasted good that night so I had to confirm with a clean palate .... It did not disappoint .... Cheers, HDReplyDelete
Great! Glad to hear that. I know the price is ridiculously cheap, but for the price it hits the spot.Delete
Haven't tasted BB, but can is stand a tumbler to Black Grouse?ReplyDelete
I prefer Black Bottle but many probably would prefer the Black Grouse.Delete
Black Grouse is pretty good value for the price. Black Grouse is one I should review. Really is a good blended Islay scotch whisky.
Jason - You are a great reviewer and thanks for your help on Black Bottle Scotch. I have not seen it in Ohio, but maybe I just have not found the right store. I am looking for a great everyday scotch under $25 that "talks to me". I am still convinced it is out there somewhere. I should have been born rich because I really like the single malts, but I really can't afford them, and THAT makes me REALLY sad.ReplyDelete
For your daily dram of choice, if you can't find Black Bottle, try and find White Horse. Also very good and it is another blended scotch emphasizing Islays. If you can't find one, sometimes the other is available.Delete
Thanks for taking the time to post your observations!
Black Bottle is unremarkable- until you add ice. Then, it is the greatest value I've had from a blend. All that is interesting in BB seems to require just a bit of ice or a spoon of water.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your review. I purchased this, and I am delighted at the quality to value ratio!ReplyDelete
I have some Laphroaigs, an Ardbeg, a few Bowmores, and some other assorted expensive scotches, and Black Bottle is the only Scotch under $25 that I can drink. Not only can I drink it, I ENJOY it! It's about as good as Bowmore Legend, but 33% less expensive.
Glad to read that you enjoy it! You can have some fun with Black Bottle by adding a little of those big dog single malts to your next pour of Black Bottle.Delete
BB is one of my guilt free pleasures. I marvel at how cheap in price it is.
Jason, Heads up ! Burn-Stewart announces changes a-comin' for the Black Bottle. Pretty risky move, to announce stylistic changes and risk trading old for new audiences, for an old label. Report from Oliver Klimek. http://www.dramming.com/2013/10/02/black-bottle-relaunch-of-a-blend-to-fight-the-precedence-of-single-malt/ReplyDelete
Thanks for the update! I will check it out. I don't like messing with an excellent blend like Black Bottle.Delete
Jason, It's in distribution. Tasting notes from Oliver Klimek suggest that the new version may well fall in a different but still favored style segment for you too. JKReplyDelete
Well, I bought this today looking for something new to try in a blended scotch; and affordable (in case I liked it). I almost went for the Black Grouse, which I do like, but decided to save $8.00 and try this. I like it very much. I am not an expert taster by any means. This is the first time I've ever posted on a site. I just wanted to see what other thought of this. I do not find much smokey /peat at all. To me, more like a Dewar's White Label, although my wife says this is not as sweet. I'll take all the comments her from those of you who probably know far more than I. My basic and simple opinion is that this is a very affordable, quality scotch; far better than the rotgut priced only a few dollars less. I will buy it again; and recommend to others.ReplyDelete
Nick, my tasting notes for Black Bottle may not totally accord with your recent tasting. This is due to the fact that this blend was relaunched in 2013. The relaunch meant new packaging and sadly a change in the flavor profile by tinkering with the ingredient malts and grain whiskies. In particular, the owners of this brand have moved away from Islay malts with the peat and smoke to a much more stereotypical Speyside flavor profile (ie. honey). An excellent blog post by Oliver Klimek can be found here:Delete
I was looking forward to trying the Black Bottle, but it seems I will have to keep looking for the elusive tasty, but inexpensive Isley scotch blend. Any suggestions for a substitute?ReplyDelete
Jeff, the great brother Islay blend to Black Bottle is "White Horse." Trouble is finding it. Super cheap and super good but getting harder to find. I reviewed it here:Delete
Trouble locating it down here until the local supermarkets liquor store carried it. Up until today it was over $50....hhhmmm ...Nah... Thought have another tonight... On special for $40. What the heck.... why not I said to myself. Nearly two thirds cheaper than others I've had... I'll crack it in another month or two when the weather cools down. Still got the Ledaig in the cupboard. Got a reasonable Lowland for me to try ?ReplyDelete
AL (from OZ)
Black Bottle has changed the flavor profile from the one that I reviewed. Supposed to be still good but not as great at all as it once was. Would not pay over $50.Delete
Lowlands? I like Littlemill bottlings of that closed distillery but they are not cheap. I like Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition releases but not the 12 year old standard release.I am not a fan of Auchentoshan distillery. I find their whiskies over priced and listless. I have not had Bladnoch, so can't comment.
Price still an issue for down here... The Glenkinchie D.E. is $135 . 12yr is $85. The DE would want to be pretty special. Can't really justify it at present.ReplyDelete
The bottle I bought is exactly the same shape etc as the the one in the above photo.... so hoping it will be the same inside'..ReplyDelete
Maybe. Lemme know.Delete
Was just reading the Scotchnoob site on Black Bottle. Someone posted a comment that they had purchased what seemed to be the old green bottle version, however, he said the flavor profile was noticeably different - less Islay peat smoke. He then noticed the label description had also changed from emphasizing whiskey from each of the Islay distilleries to one describing a blend of Islay as well as Highland, Lowland and Speyside malt and grain. Again, this was the old green bottle, but with a minor deceptive change on the label, and big change in the taste. I have found a store still stocking green bottles. I'll have to check the description before I buy.Delete
Maybe they started tinkering with the contents of the bottle before making a dramatic change in packaging?Delete
I couldn't wait.... Nose... A little bit of peat....Not much at all ...Spot on with the malt... This is my 3rd taste... over a few nights.... Each one the same. Don't know why... similar to Chivas R. Ashy smoke at the very end on the palate. not a long finish... But very nice. I was try to think about a similar priced one... JW black. This has more to it for me. You could go through a bottle very quickly ...ReplyDelete
Thanks for the review brother!Delete
Found the green old shape bottle at the local liquor shop... $52 The JW double black is a similar price.... which would you go for ?ReplyDelete
I would grab the old Black Bottle because once it is gone, it is gone for good. Double Black will always be around and between the two, the old version Black Bottle is better.Delete
Too true ....ReplyDelete
I'll jump at it !