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My first time tasting Black Bottle was in the best possible context for this dram as you can imagine: on the ferry between Kennacraig and Port Askaig. And I loved it - bold, smoky and bracing. This is a blend known for using malts from seven Islay distilleries, as well as Deanston malt. Created in 1879 by C.D. & G. Graham (Aberdeen tea blenders), the brand was subsequently owned by Long John, Allied Lyons, Highland Distillers and Burn Stewart, and is currently blended by Gordon Graham (don't know if he's a relation to the founders). But when was this mini bottled? I would have no idea except for a very fortuitous sticker on the back that reads "With Best Wishes From John & Diane, 7th May 1994". Well, it at least tells me it's no more recent than that, but I'm going with the notion that this was bottled in the early '90s.
The colour is a flat gold. Fairly shy nose, with gentle peat, caramel and vanilla. Some mint as well. Comes across as a slightly peaty blend, but not much more. Water gives both the nose and palate a bit more of a kick.
This is fuller-bodied on the palate, with more spice to go along with the peat. Creamy mouthfeel, with candy floss and creme brûlée. Fairly straightforward, but the peat and spice make it more interesting.
The long finish brings out more spice, with oak, vanilla and some light toffee. Well, this is a bit of a disappointment given that I had tried it before and this is clearly not the same whisky. The dram I had on the ferry to Islay was a recent bottling (with new packaging) and was much better than this (though the context of being on the open sea may have improved my experience). My research bears this out: this would likely have been bottled when Allied Lyons owned the brand (1990-1995), as opposed to the current owners, Burn Stewart, who have improved both packaging and quality. I suppose on the upside, this is the rare whisky that has gotten better with newer bottlings, as opposed to worse, which is unfortunately more common.