Saturday, November 1, 2014

Review: Black Bull 12 year old Blended Scotch Whisky

You know what I like about football?  It represents a totally mindless distraction from the pressures and competing priorities of my everyday life.  It is pure escapism.  Every football fan has an opinion and nobody is wrong, well until his team plays.

There's Andrew in my office who is a walking encyclopedia of football.  We debate stats, strategies, players, coaches, everything on Monday morning.  Probably the best part of my work week.  When I am laying on my deathbed, I will warmly remember all the crazy bets of free coffee I made with him on NFL games.

Football, cigars, whisky and even meditation all have something in common.  They force a guy to slow down.  He can't rush a cigar, chug whisky, or meditate quickly.

I tried meditation once, to slow my mind down and de-stress.  Even read a book on it and sat on the tatami, and tried to keep my mind pure while the super hot, college age lululemon chick in front of me warmed up with some downward-facing-dog poses.

Anyway, I was supposed to close my eyes (which I did once Ms. lululemon sat down) and focus on my breathing.  I was directed by a silver haired, diminutive Zen master, clad in black, with John Lennon glasses, to let my thoughts drift in and out of my mind, just observe and not ruminate on them.  Trouble was, my meditative thoughts comprised a fast-moving Ganges stream of visions of me sitting in front of my beloved flat screen Sony, sipping whisky, smoking a cigar and watching a Sunday afternoon NFL game.

Suddenly, I had an epiphany that I could not be a silent witness to such thoughts.  This meditation was stressing me out!  So, in the spirit of Abraham Maslow I was going to address my own hierarchy of needs and take all necessary steps towards my much needed self-actualization.  To that end, I leapt up from my meditation mat like a coiled cobra, hopped into my indefensibly expensive European SUV, and ripped out of the parking lot with Steve McQueen worthy driving gusto (I would have squealed the tires too, but the 4matic all-wheel drive system prevents any tire spinning).  My ascetic journey brought me to the retail tranquility of my local liquor store where I employed my powers of mindfulness and selected Black Bull 12 year old Blended Scotch Whisky.

Before taking a sip, I knew that Black Bull was a beast of a blended Scotch.  The label read 50% ABV!  The back label also read 50% malt whisky and 50% grain whisky, and has not been chill filtered.  I imagined taking a sip and burning my esophagus with this spirit.  I am always concerned with whiskies in excess of 43% being over the top strong and basically undrinkable.  So, with great care and after the lighting of joss sticks from the local hipster store, I added one teaspoon of water to a 3/4 oz pour, and settled into my lazy boy on NFL GameDay.

Nose (diluted)
Sherry, muted black earth, crushed strawberries, jam, fruit notes and nice oak.

Palate (diluted)
Rounded sherry, strawberry, dark malty elements, pomegranate.

Finish (diluted)
Salty sherry, molasses, oak, some espresso.  Think Italian coffee done in a moka pot in Umbria.

. . .

Having added water and enjoyed this whisky, I thought I must try it neat.

Nose (undiluted)
Richer sherry, oak, sandalwood, nutmeg, more spirity, cold misty morning air, red licorice.

Palate (undiluted)
Initial sweet spiced attack of sherry charging upon the palate, but in a splendid way.  Rhubarb and treacle soon follow.  Creamy caramel and dark toffee dominate.

Finish (undiluted)
Thick, dark, ok hell burnt toast with a smear of Grandma's homemade blackberry jam that lingers forever.  Damn this is good!

General Impressions
This blend renews my faith in blended Scotch whisky.  This is a very good blend that holds up very well against some 12 year old single malts.  I would take this any day over Glenlivet 12 or Glenfiddich 12.  A word of caution though is needed.

Black Bull is not for newbies.  It is strong drink for the novice.  I would also not recommend this as a gift purchase for the casual blend consumer.  Give this to the serious whisky lover, who may think all blends are inferior to single malt.  This whisky will shake such a foolhardy belief.

Black Bull is remarkably smooth, in spite of the high ABV.  Surprisingly, I preferred it neat.  I found water diluted or muted the flavors more than I cared for.  No peat and virtually no smoke either.  This whisky is all about the sherry, oak, molasses, pomegranate flavors that start sweet, and become more drying on the palate.  Due to the 50% malt content, there is no graininess that plagues many flavor profiles of blended Scotch whiskies.  No bitterness or burning alcohol bite.  Really quite impressive.  This is not nirvana, but damn close in the blended Scotch whisky category!

My path to enlightenment:  hanging with some Houston Texans fans!

Jason Debly

P.S.  Special thanks to Whisky Dog George for donating the bottle of Black Bull for review.


  1. Jason, Another entertaining and educational review. (Substitute baseball for football.) I wish Black Bull was available in Virginia but it will have to go on the out-of-state list. A good blended scotch is always welcome and I'm finding that Black Bottle and Teachers Highland aren't as good as earlier versions. I don't know if they are cutting corners or if my tastes are changing. It could be either or both. I don't mind 100 proof whisky, most of my preferred bourbons are that strength. In the meantime I'll just have to muddle through with Lagavulin and Laphroaig Quarter Cask.


    1. Hi Jeff!

      I have also noticed changes in the taste of Teacher's. I really do think they are cutting corners. As for Black Bottle, I have not had it in a couple of years, but read on line that they changed the formulation of the blend.

      Makers of blended Scotch are free to change their blends due to supply or cost, but they should be mindful that consumers can change their minds too.

      Nice to hear from you!