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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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