February 2016 Archives
Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky was first introduced in 1879 by a family-run company of Aberdeen tea blenders Charles, David and Gordon Graham who branched out into whisky blending. In a stroke of marketing genius the Grahams' decided to package their creation in a distinctive black bottle made of German glass and aptly named the blend "Black Bottle." At that time the blend was mostly comprised of Highland whiskies made with malted barley from New Pitsligo in Aberdeenshire which used local peat in the production process.
The outbreak of the First World War spelled the end of the iconic black glass bottle as trade with the German manufacturer ceased and Gordon Graham & Co. were forced to revert to a standard green glass bottle. Over the next century, ownership of the blend changed hands and with each transaction the recipe was altered.
The latest owner, Burn Stewart Distillers (now owned in turn by South African alcoholic drinks conglomerate, Distell), acquired the brand along with Islay distillery Bunnahabhain in 2003. The Islay-heavy recipe was retained and, for the next ten years, they continued to make the blend as their predecessors had done. Domestically, the whisky was doing well but it remained a mystery as to why it was failing to gain traction in any of its export markets. By 2012, Black Bottle was exported to over 30 countries yet approximately 80% of its sales were realized solely in the UK.
In an effort to revitalize the brand, Burn Stewart Distillers announced in 2013 that Black Bottle would once again be sold in its traditional black glass bottle. However, the change in packaging wasn't the only tweak the company had in mind. Master Distiller Ian MacMillan was charged with re-creating a blend that was more in keeping with the original "north-east" recipe. Speaking after the announcement, MacMilllan is reported to have claimed that "Black Bottle lost itself in Islay...and [that] the challenge was to develop a liquid that was more in line with the original character of Black Bottle while maintaining all of the quality for which the brand is renowned. I wanted to reintroduce a richness to balance the smokiness of the blend and in turn allow each component to contribute to the overall flavour."
The new recipe contains malt from just one Islay distillery, Bunnahabhain, and a host of unpeated Highland and Speyside malt and grain whiskies. In addition to the revised formulation, the blend has undergone a further change as it is now also married in new American oak casks prior to being bottled at 40% ABV.