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Black Bottle – Relaunch Of A Blend To Fight The Precedence Of Single Malt

by Oliver Klimek on October 2, 2013

Burn Stewart Distillers have announced a relaunch of their Black Bottle blend with both product and packaging changed. The Spirits Business even ran two separate articles about this (onetwo).

This alone would not have merited a mention here, if it was not for the fact that the company’s arguments for the relaunch are a serious case for the Whisky Bullshit Police.

Here are the highlights:

“Burn Stewart representatives also said that although single malts largely overshadow the blended Scotch whisky category, they are confident that this new release will inject new interest in the category.”

And quoting Burn Stewart’s master blender Ian MacMillan:

“MacMillan added that in the Scotch category, single malts take precedence and the “art of blending does not get enough acknowledgement”.”

Beg your pardon? Single malt sales account for less than 10% of the global whisky business, and they have done so since the beginning. How this constitutes ‘precedence’ of single malts over blends is an enigma.

But maybe things will clear up when we read on…

“However, he [MacMillan] also stressed that the blended Scotch category was “pretty dull” and that the re-launched Black Bottle blend had the potential to “shake things up”.”

Not really, so far…

“MacMillan added that the expression moves away from the peatiness of Islay, which became a more prominent note in Black Bottle recipes over the years, and instead channels more Speyside flavours.

He noted that “Black Bottle lost itself in Islay” and said the distillery realised there was a need for the Scotch to “return its North East roots.””

This looks even more confabulated on first sight, but the truth might actually be hidden in there.

Could it just be that Black Bottle hasn’t been selling terribly well recently and the company has been thinking about how to increase sales?

Burn Stewart have done a great job in revamping their single malt range (Bunnahabhain, Tobermory/Ledaig and Deanston) by going non-coloured and non-chillfitered. Maybe the single malt precendence is only a thing of their own company. Now it’s time to tackle the blend.

If you ask malt whisky geeks, Black Bottle regularly is mentioned as one of their preferred blends, especially because of its Islay character. But is a blend preferred by maltheads and Islay natives really the right product to compete with Johnnie Walker, Ballantine’s and Chivas Regal, the cash cows of Diageo and Pernod Ricard that are the motors of the current whisky boom overseas?

Burn Stewart have decided to give up what made Black Bottle a special blend. By going more “Speyside” than “Islay” it will become more similar to the big brands, the brands who define the segment which Burn Stewart labelled as “dull”. Shaking up the blend market by becoming like the others? Bullshit indeed.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Gal Granov October 2, 2013 at 10:34 am

Indeed Oliver this is serioues bullshit
I must say i liked the “old” BB, and the new one with not much islay, is really not worth looking into, as there are so many others.
it has always been a nice starting point for people trying Islay, in moderation and at a good price.

too bad.

If i were the judge, i’d throw the one who wrote this silly PR to jail. STAT.

Gal

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TimF October 2, 2013 at 1:03 pm

My first thought was that they wanted to expand but stocks of Islay malts are just too hard to come by. A real pity as I love BB and really like the new packaging. I have a couple of late 1980s / early 1990s BBs somewhere, will have to get a more recent bottle and do a taste-off with the new one.

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Oliver Klimek October 2, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Good point, Tim, and one I had not considered when I wrote the article. A comment on Facebook was along the same lines, by the way.

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Jason Debly October 5, 2013 at 3:28 am

What Burn Stewart need to do is put more marketing dollars behind Black Bottle in terms of an advertising campaign, and not tinker with a great blend that Black Bottle is.

Diageo are geniuses at taking mediocre blends and commanding higher than average prices in the market place by way of well thought out and appealing marketing campaigns. Think of Red Label. Always priced higher than other economy blends that are better (ie. Teacher’s). Burn Stewart need to take a play out of Diageo’s playbook and do the same thing.

“Whisky Bullshit Police” – love the line!

To lessen the Islay influence of Black Bottle and increase the Speyside influence (read cheap, sweet grain) is a disastrous move.

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kallaskander October 9, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Hi there,

well the brand went to South-African Distell Group along with the rest of the Burn Stewart portfolio.
The view from the Cape on a brand like Black Bottle might be very different than viewed from Scotland.

Greetings
kallaskander

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Jim McDowall March 29, 2014 at 9:47 am

Just bought the new blend Black Bottle and it will be my last.
This is really vile stuff and can only be described as mainstream.

The new bottle and presentation is first class pity about the contents.

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Sir Malcs May 13, 2014 at 12:24 am

Just cracked open my first of the new style bottles, not having heard of the change to the blend – what on earth have they done!?!

What used to be one of the best blends (and in my opinion one of the best value for money drams out there) has become mediocre at best – I’m genuinely heartbroken by this!

You’ve summed it up perfectly – how can they say they’re ‘shaking things up’ when all they’ve done is made the product considerably worse.

Sad to say it’ll be my last Black Bottle. The end of an era…

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