“I love working on Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky,” said the Distell Group’s Master Blender Julieann Fernandez early on in this virtual launch event via Zoom. “It is such an experimental brand that constantly allows me and my colleagues to challenge existing conventions and try new stuff.” And indeed: The whisky makers behind the two new Black Bottle expressions Alchemy #3: Andean Oak and Alchemy #4: Smoke & Dagger have once again shown great ingenuity, craftmanship, and out-of-the-box-thinking. To create something really special, they applied pioneering techniques and chose wood types that were never-before used for Scotch. In doing so, the brought to life a superb duo of limited edition whiskies that are well-worth trying out – first, because they offer something new and arcane; second, because they are rich with taste and character.
Before we came to sip them, however, we greased our palates with a cool long drink, namely Black Bottle Classic with peach-flavored iced tea. This was actually the first time I ever used iced tea as a filler and I liked it a lot! It felt almost as if the tasting experience was split in two: In the beginning, the sweetness from the soft drink dominated in the mouth, but then the smoke from the whisky took over and fumigated the entire oral cavity.
Next up, we poured ourselves a neat dram of the first headliner: Black Bottle Andean Oak. It marks the third entry in the mind-twisting and tongue-pleasing Alchemy series that pays homage to the ever-curious minds of former tea blenders Charles, David, and Gordon Graham, who birthed, established, and grew the Black Bottle brand in the late 19th century. As the name suggests, this sophisticated drop was (partly) matured in virgin oak sourced from the Andes Mountains. While there are a few rums from such casks out there, the new Black Bottle expression is actually the first-ever Scotch whisky to feature this particular kind of maturation. As Julieann told us, only the grains in the recipe were finished in Andean oak for one year; the malts were kept in other vessels. The reason behind this decision: The selected grains were all of very subtle and gentle nature, which made them ideally suited to absorb lots and lots of aroma. This rendered them perfect specimen to study the effect that the Andean oak casks would have on the liquid kept within. Let’s not forget: This was a dive into a blue ocean and Julieann and her colleagues could only base their assumptions on theoretic principles, rather than practical experience.
So how did this appraoch translate into smell and taste? Well, quite extraordinarily! Black Bottle Andean Oak is a layered, stimulating dram with a heavy, creamy, and oily mouthfeel. Aroma- and flavor-wise, it is opulent with stone fruit, cinnamon, and vanilla as well as nuts, berries, grapes, brittle, cake, and chocolate. The delicate, fleeting smoke remains far in the back. When it makes itself known, it takes an aromatic and perfumed form. The more time one spends with this classy drop, the richer it becomes. “There’s really a ton to discover and unpack in there,” said Brand Manager Craig Black, who co-hosted the tasting with Julieann, at one point. That statement hits the nail right on the head!
The creation of Black Bottle Smoke & Dagger was driven by one central question: “What can we do to to give this maritime whisky an extra layer of smoke and supercharge its inherent peatiness?” Resourceful as they are, the whisky makers chose the following two strategies: They put all of the to-be-blended grain whiskies into ex-Ledaig barrels to load them up with ashy Island peat. And the added a good dose of ultra-heavily-peated single malt whisky from Bunnahabhain to the mix (which goes by the name of Moine HP and has not yet been bottled on its own). The result is a big and bold Blended Scotch that is filled to the brim with peat, smoke, fume, and brine! Upon first sniff and taste, the differing kinds of phenols are omni-present. Once they begin to fade, however, other notes are given the chance to peek-a-boo, too: sweet barley sugar, creamy vanilla, salted caramel, and BBQ’ed tropical fruits. Also moist stones and other mineral sensations. And a fresh eucalyptus kick. If you are, like me, a dedicated fan of absolute peat monsters, you should definitely give Smoke & Dagger a try. I am sure that you will love it aplenty!
In accordance with the out-of-the-ordinary nature of the drams, the tasting itself also came along with a little twist: Before we moved on to drink Andean Oak and Smoke & Dagger, Julieann and Craig provided us with a link that lead to Black Bottle’s “Taste Experiment” website. There, we were shown five pairs of videos illustrating different kinds of flavors (e.g., juicy fruits, coarse-grained salt, runny caramel, burnt wood, and so on). Each time, we had to pick the one that appealed most to us. Based on our choices, an AI did then analyze our preferences and recommend a drink to us. In my case, the predicted object of my desire was “something dark and indulgent with a fruity kick.” And the ideal serve to still my needs was “Smoke & Dagger straight up.” On that evening, the result was spot on. But if I was in a different mood, the equally awesome Andean Oak might just as well have been my “hero of the day”.
Black Bottle Classic mixed with Peach Iced Tea (Bl. Scotch Whisky / Oak casks / 40% / EUR 20)
Black Bottle Alchemy #3 “Andean Oak” (Bl. Scotch Whisky / Andean oak casks / 46.5% / EUR 35)
Black Bottle Alchemy #4 “Smoke & Dagger” (Bl.Scotch Whisky / Oak casks / 46.5% / EUR 35)
*** I was kindly invited to the online tasting by Distell Group
and given the bottles for free. Thank you. ***