Black Bottle: Out with the old, in with the new


Over Christmas and New Year, everyone I know eats far too much, and drinks too much. It is a tradition older than Santa (a man that takes on that tradition with gusto). During this time of indulgence, I found myself needing a bottle of whisky for the house (while reading my holiday books, pictured above). It needs to be tasty, have enough complexity to keep me interested, and be appealing to most drinkers. Oh and cheap! I tend to for my sins go through a bottle of whisky pretty quickly (while responsibly) so I don’t want to have spent a fortune on my round the house dram.

So after a quick look online and at a few local shops, I settled on a bottle of Black Bottle. Now if any of you are unaware, Black Bottle used to be quite a smoky blend (containing many Islay distilleries). In 2013, the Burns Stewart decided to change, and go back to what they felt the original Black Bottle (which was originally blended in the 1870′s) tasted like. In the press release they talk about introducing a richness to balance out the smoke. They also changed it back to being a black bottle, rather than the dark green (it was originally a black bottle, but the manufacturer was German, so supply was cut off at the beginning of WW1, and they decided to change to dark green bottles).

Talking to Mal Spence from Black Bottle (who also runs the excellent Kelvingrove Cafe, just opposite Scotch Whisky Auctions in Glasgow) he was saying that although there is less Islay in the blend than in the previous edition, there is actually an increase in overall phenol count, but this is balanced by full flavoured, unpeated Highland and Speyside malts. An extra twist to this whisky is that after blending the aged whiskies, they re-cask this blend in American Virgin Oak casks which give the blend even more sweetness and fullness. As he is an unbelievably knowledgeable cocktail maker (I know, I have drank many of his cocktails after visiting Scotch Whisky Auctions) I asked him what cocktail it would work in. He felt that the richness, with the burst of flavour from the Virgin Oak, made it perfect for Torontos, Boulvevardiers and Old Fashioneds. He also mentioned that he was working on a cocktail that makes reference to Gordon Graham (the original creator of Black Bottle). Stay tuned for that.

Now, I can sort of understand the upset a recipe change has caused folks. If I had been drinking Black Bottle for 20 years, and they changed, I would feel a little sad. On the other hand, as someone who enjoyed the old Black Bottle, but wasn’t particularly attached to it, I am keen to try this new Black Bottle and judge it on it’s own merits.  When I worked in shops, I found it easy to sell old Black Bottle, as it filled a niche as a smoky blend, but was less well known than another blend with a dash of smoke (the walking man). At the price point it is at and the fact the new packaging looks spot on, I don’t think I would struggle to sell the new edition, even if the smoke has been changed from being the main note on the blend. Depending on if it tastes any good. So let’s taste it:

Black Bottle (2013 release)
Components include Tobermory, Ledaig, Bunnahabhain & Deanston (plus many other whiskies)
Once aged whiskies are blended, re-casked into American Virgin Oak casks

Nose: Nice rounded sherry notes, with raisins, syrup, honey, caramel and an oakiness that almost comes across as an aged rum note.

I’m impressed. This style of blend is right up my alley. No young metallic grainy notes, no off notes, brilliant balance. The smoke is a tiny dash, enveloped by all these full notes.

Palate: Brown sugar and molasses at first, followed by a dark fruit mid palate and a dark chocolate finish. The lingering dark chocolate, oaky finish is where the smoke creeps in, but it is very slight. I’m sorry to upset the folks who loved the old Black Bottle, but this new blend is bloody lovely. Between £18.50 and £18.95 you say? Shut up and take my money.

I say I sort of understand the upset…change upsets people. I get that..but I admit I am occasionally puzzled by such upset. Scotland has an unbelievable selection of  whiskies, blends and malts, at different price points. For example, I was upset Macallan changed, but I had alternatives. I was upset when Mortlach changed, but I had alternatives. I suppose what I am saying is, give the new version of Black Bottle a chance. I thought it was really good. If you still have an old edition Black Bottle hole in your life, go to your local booze merchant, and start experimenting with new drams.

I think this new edition will be a big success. I’m still enjoying the large dram I poured myself while writing this article.

Chris Hoban


  1. Happy new year, Chris! And thank you for blowing the mince pie crumbs off your keyboard and writing this post. I didn’t know a great deal about Black Bottle apart from their owners and the fact that, pre-Kilchoman, it was said that BB contained liquid from every Islay distillery. You’ve upped my awareness of this wee brand and I’m grateful to you for that.
    I tried the old Black Bottle at about Christmas time last year (so it must have been this version). I’d agree with you, a scrumptious sweet blend for the price – although still with a dash of pettiness – and I think it will charm far more people than it offends. I seem to make a habit of commenting below blend-related posts on EWB but dammit they need more attention!
    Keep it up. Cheers.

  2. That should be ‘peatiness’, of course. Another unhelpful intervention from autocorrect.

  3. Happy New Year! I hope your travels are treating you well! I guess the way Islay whisky is going, it will be very difficult for anyone to make a blend with all the Islay distillers in the future (unless you have got your planning right, and bought loads of casks years ago).

    I get the impression Burns Stewart decision was bases on flavour rather than lack of available islay whisky though.

    Blends do deserve more focus on blogs, so it’s always good when folks comment on them.

  4. Dreadful stuff drowning in new American oak, tastes like an Aussie chardonnay circa 1989.

  5. I like it athough I think you have to be patient with this one. Let it sit for a while, add a few drops of water, it opens and blossoms like a flower . Don’t be quick to judge it. IMO its quite different to anything else that I have ever tried. Its unmistakable. There is a mystique about it, an earthiness and a saltiness to the finish.The large orange supermarket are selling it for £15 for a 70 ml bottle. Well worth it it IMHO and miles better than the big four blends.

  6. Not into whisky blogs but I was hoping that Burns Stewart might see this. I think they have seriously damaged their image. Black Bottle was my whisky of choice when in a pub and I frequently bought it for home consumption. It no longer has the same flavour and the change of bottle is a disaster.I no longer buy it. It is totally impossible to see what is left in the bottle.The old green bottle was distinctive and attractive. The new black bottle, apart from being opaque,reminds of bottles of black drench for cattle used on my father’s farm 50/60 years ago One lost customer!

  7. One lost customer…above…one gained customer right here! I can see from some comments on blogs, many of the “long time loyal” fans of the previous version of Black Bottle are quite disappointed. And I empathize. I never tasted the pre-2013 version. And I actually am a fan of highland/speyside style scotches in general. I love Glenlivet, Macallan, Ballantine’s and Dalmore of varying ages. So I am the voice of a new market of customers that have no history with the previous blend. I have read that they were trying to recreate the recipe of the original flavor that existed in black bottle pre-1980’s. I’m not sure if that’s true or not. But I will say this. With no previous version to compare to, and not being a huge Islay fan, I LOVE THIS SCOTCH. It has a subtle hint of peat, which is all I want. Enough peat to add complexity, without being overhelming. But I love the rich, sweet, creamy carmel, vanilla, baking spice (cinnamon, nutmeg) this scotch has going on. And it’s incrediblely smooth. Especially with a touch of water. I finished my bottle and drove 30 mins to get an immediate replacement. I’m a new fan. I feel for the old fans, that have lost a cherished beverage, but for new customers than wants a rich, sweet, dram, with a touch of peat…this is it. Especially for the price. I’d pay double for it any day. I feel this new version is going to become a huge hit with younger scotch drinkers that have no history with the brand. But I fear the day I become one of you, far in the future maybe 30 years from now, and I learn that they have changed my newly beloved Black Bottle, for some futuristic new recipe. May that day not come too soon, because I absolutely love this current version!

  8. The new blend is OK but the previous one was far superior – and they had the cheek to raise the price (apparantly believing it was a superior blend. Just how “superior” can be seen by the number of “special offers” there are.)
    Fortunately my local store had stocks of the previous blend which I was able to secure and lasted a while but now they are all gone! shame. However there are other decent blends out there – I just don’t buy Black Bottle these days unless it is a really special price – even when as a gift for less discerning friends.

  9. New to this Black Bottle. My new whisky of choice. I did a blind tasting with my brother. We had some other blends and malts and this one was our favourite…

  10. Nah! I’m not buying any of this. The old Black Bottle was outstanding amongst blends, and a far superior product to this new blend. Too sweet and cloying.

    I stopped buying BB a while ago because of the change, and decided I would simply treat myself to my favourite malts instead. I’ve just been given a present of the pseudo BB, which has only served to confirm my previous impressions.

    A very sad loss of a quality blended whisky, and I don’t believe anyone with an appreciative palate for good whisky can defend this change with any sincerity. BB has become just another sweet “cooking” whisky.

  11. “A shadow of its former self”
    Not my comments but the Whisky Bible’s comment

    I agree.

  12. Big fan of the OG “Black Bottle”, and this is NOTHING LIKE IT – avoid the disappointment and save your cash, unless you enjoy being totally underwhelmed/ripped off :(

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