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Black Bottle Whisky


Black Bottle Blended Whisky

The iconic whisky in the black bottle was sold by Graham Brothers until the First World War. After that, it was no longer possible to get the black glass from the German supplier, so they had to switch to the green bottle, which has been used until recently.

Now, from BurnStewart, the owner of the brand, has decided to relaunch the black bottle. It was not an easy task as all the original bottles no longer existed. It was only when a single bottle from 1906 surfaced that they could start recreating the original.

Master Distiller from BurnStewart, Ian MacMillan, was responsible for creating the content, which he recreated as a blended whisky in the typical northeastern style using old notes. According to Ian MacMillan, the challenge was to find the balance between creating the original whisky and ensuring that it was not too rustic but had the elegance and quality expected from BurnStewart. Particularly, the smoky element is toned down a bit.

A well-kept secret from Islay

By Walter Tentschert

For too long, Black Bottle has been somewhat of a well-kept secret. Now it is finally getting the exposure it deserves, thanks to the ambitious and passionate dedication from the owners, Burn Stewart Distillers Ltd. More and more consumers are being seduced by the original charm of this evidently different whisky, and Burn Stewart seeks to share this - its pride and joy - with the rest of the world. Black Bottle has recently undergone a discreet but significant overhaul of its packaging to look healthy and confident. In these image-conscious days, the presentation of products is very important, but there is also enough tangible quality and integrity in the content to bring discerning consumers back for more.

Black Bottle boasts a proud and fascinating heritage. The story begins in the long and proud reign of Queen Victoria in the small village of Torphins near Aberdeen, in the northeast of Scotland. Three sons were born to a local shoemaker, James Graham, their names being Charles, David, and Gordon. As was the norm during this time - once old enough, the three brothers left their family and home to go to the thriving industrial port of Aberdeen to seek work.

In 1850, Aberdeen teemed with imports from around the world, and with tea sent in from Ceylon and China, a busy trade had developed in the blending of varieties. It was in this thriving industry that the three brothers learned and built their business. The first Graham offices were ambitiously opened in the heart of Aberdeen's commercial quarter on Market Street.

Over time, the brothers became known for blending yet another fine drink, this time something more potent. Encouraged by the success they had with the fruits of their labor, the Graham brothers decided to launch an entirely new product - Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky.

Although they had kept Black Bottle much like a side business, the Graham brothers decided to turn their backs on the tea industry that had built them a reputation as a respected family in Aberdeen. With the move from Market Street to the duty-free warehouses on Regent Street, they started a full-time business of whisky blending.

Gordon Graham, the eldest brother, and the mastermind behind the blend, died before he could see the success that his younger brothers later reaped from Black Bottle. It is his outstanding taste recipe and vision that Black Bottle's popularity can be attributed to.

In 1898, Pattisons - Scotland's most prominent blending company - collapsed, bringing an abrupt halt to the soaring whisky boom. This event and the risks associated with expansion are reasons why the Graham brothers never invested in their own distillery.

After the outbreak of the Great War, Graham's unique black bottle - made in Germany - was necessarily replaced by a green glass version. Despite this change, the bottle has retained its unique 'pot still' shape.

Black Bottle's story includes some fascinating personalities, such as the eccentric, spirited matriarch - the widow Anne Jane Graham - commonly known as 'Granny Graham.' Always dressed in black, Granny Graham conducted her business from her Aberdeen home. She was an indomitable woman who even persuaded her own nephew - Graham Horne - to change his surname to Graham, ensuring that the family name would continue to be associated with Black Bottle when it eventually passed on.

In 1995, Black Bottle's original and unique identity was restored, making the bold decision to include malt whisky from all of Islay's operational distilleries. Consumers have historically perceived Islay whiskies as massive, medicinal, and peat-smoked monsters, but there is actually a significant variety of different styles within the region. When Burn Stewart acquired the Black Bottle brand, they also acquired the Bunnahabhain distillery, and the malt whisky from there is a key component of Black Bottle. It is fresh and sweet on the nose, gentle on the palate, with rich malt tones, soft honey, and just a hint of salt. Today, this historic distillery is led by John MacLellan - a native Ileach - who has worked there for 17 years. According to John, "Black Bottle and Bunnahabhain are a match made in heaven."

A small oddity should be mentioned in passing, as soon as Highland Distilleries had sold off the Black Bottle brand and the Bunnahabhain distillery to Burn Stewart, they launched 'Black Grouse.' It seems that blended whisky with smoky nuances is quite popular.

Burn Stewart's Master Blender, Ian Macmillan, refers to himself as the 'custodian of the blend,' and he says, "When we bought the business in 2003, Black Bottle was one of the key aspects of the deal. Black Bottle is a fun blend to work with. The effect of the big, heavy, peaty Islays is 'mellowed' by the significant Bunnahabhain influence and some sweeter Speyside and Highland malts, which help create a really well-balanced blend. It has a high malt content, and all the malts in it are highly respected quality malts in themselves. The blending of malt and grain, as we use, gives a nicely structured, rich whisky with a distinctive nose and taste. There are few - if any - other blends available that come close to it in terms of style."

Black Bottle has returned to its roots in the finest possible way, and fortunately, it stands proudly apart from the crowd. It is certainly worth raising a glass - or two!