Exclusive to Master of Malt comes two new additions to the Black Bottle Alchemy Series: Black Bottle Andean Oak and Black Bottle Smoke & Dagger.
We’re always very happy to welcome new Black Bottle whisky because it’s both very tasty and very affordable. This is very much the double threat that people have always wanted, but has become even more cherished in this cost of living crisis. We also love to welcome exclusives to Master of Malt, and that’s exactly what we have here.
Introducing: Black Bottle Andean Oak and Black Bottle Smoke & Dagger.
New arrivals, just for us…
These are editions #3 and #4 in The Alchemy Series, following Island Smoke and Double Cask which were launched last year. The inspiration behind the series is the ‘original whisky alchemists’ that created Black Bottle, the three Graham brothers, who turned their talents as tea blenders towards whisky-making.
“Black Bottle is all about being unconventional, so we’re constantly pushing each other to be experimental and use unorthodox methods, just like the founding brothers did when they first created the blend back in 1879,” master blender Julieann Fernandez tells me. It’s all about innovation. “Black Bottle isn’t static, it’s a hugely versatile, dynamic, and intriguing spectrum that offers an exploration of smoke,” she summarises.
That’s the Black Bottle approach that has defined this new era of love the brand is getting. For a long while, Black Bottle was something of a forgotten gem. But a rebrand, complete with a new series, and the love both Fernandez and master distiller Brendan McCarron are able to give the liquid shows owners Distell believes in this product.
A new era of Black Bottle
Good news for me, not only a fan of Black Bottle, but the kind of peat-forward blends that were such a staple during the golden age of blends which I think are overdue a bit of love. Fernandez concurs. “Smoky blends are wonderful and offer an incredible range of flavour. We’ve always seen Black Bottle, for example, as a great way to enter and explore the world of smoke. Across our full range we’re able to showcase smoke in different ways, so in some expressions, we have a more ‘medicinal peat’, in others it’s sweeter and with Black Bottle 10 Year Old, it’s a richer, more ember-like smoke”.
The other aspect that makes Black Bottle an ideal drink for those looking to explore the world of peat is the superb value it offers. Fernandez explains that there is a desire to keep Black Bottle at a reasonable price because of a passion to make quality whisky that’s accessible. “It’s important to us that consumers have the opportunity to explore the incredible world of smoky whisky and it’s not always the case that you need to spend hundreds of pounds to experience the award-winning spirit,” she says. This is certainly the case with the new Black Bottles, both clocking in at a cracking £27.95.
The starting point for both is Black Bottle Original recipe which is “created with grains matured in virgin American oak casks and a high proportion of Islay malts, giving us a gorgeous balance of sweet and smoke. Both cask and recipe are really important aspects in terms of crafting the final spirit,” Fernandez says. “This year’s Alchemy Series experiments individually dial up those two aspects: one is a category first in terms of cask finishing and the other utilises really unusual blending techniques”.
Andean Oak and Smoke & Dagger
Andean Oak takes its name from the virgin Andean oak casks that are at the heart of its recipe. The variety is called quercus humboldtii and it is native to Colombia and Panamá. “No other whisky has ever used these casks before, as far as we know, and they impart a spicy, nutty flavour that comes to life in Black Bottle’s smoky character”, Fernandez said. That tannic profile, similar to virgin oak but heightened, was used to elevate the creamy, smooth grain whiskies of the blend by finishing them for seven months in Andean oak casks with various toast and char levels.
In contrast, Smoke and Dagger was designed to ramp up the smoke, using the heaviest peated malt in the Black Bottle reserves. “For an extra layer of smoke, we even added the grain to casks which previously held a highly-peated island malt,” Fernandez explains. The blend combines older malts with boisterous young smoke bombs, and even features some recognisable names like Bunnahabhain Moine.
Like last year’s Alchemy Series experiments, this year’s releases are bottled at 46.3% and without colouring or chill-filtration. While Fernandez admits they’re always nervous releasing new expressions, she reasonably points out that Double Cask and Island Smoke gave them reason to be confident. They won either the trophy or category winner in every spirits competition they were entered them into, and were the only two blended Scotch whiskies to scoop a master award at the 2021 Scotch Whisky Masters.
I see no reason why the Alchemy Series won’t continue to be a success. The balance between keeping what makes Black Bottle great while experimenting in new directions is here. Andean Oak avoids getting drowned in tannins and brings nutty, vanilla elements to the Black Bottle spirit, while Smoke & Dagger is just made for peatheads. Even with some big individual flavours, they are still versatile and maintain the brand signature of whisky that makes a great base for cocktails without getting lost in them.
Fernandez recommends Andean Oak goes great in a Mai Tai or a Whisky Smash, while Smoke & Dagger is said to work brilliantly in a Strawberry Mojito or in an Espresso Martini. I love these suggestions and will be trying all of them, but the first thing I did was take another Fernandez tip and use them together to make one hell of a Penicillin. The tasting notes are below so you can get an idea of how to play around with it yourself. You buy Andean Oak here and Smoke & Dagger here.
Nose: Through iodine and smoke comes hazelnut whip, figs, and fudge as well as baking spice.
Palate: Layers of vanilla, honey, and smoked toffee are joined by nutmeg and cinnamon.
Finish: Delicate smoke drifts through the sweet notes like nutty chocolate.
Nose: Initial notes of TCP, coastal peat, burnt rubber, smoked herbs, and seaweed. It’s a big, seaside-smoke-fest, supported by notes of salted caramel and toasted barley.
Palate: Lots more of that peaty power is tempered by honeyed barley, oaky vanilla, old-school boiled sweets, and toffee.
Finish: Smoke and salted caramel remain.