Black Bottle Blended Scotch

I’ve had a lot of recommendations for this. Lesson learned: Commenters know what’s up! This is good stuff at an amazing price. Read on:

Black Bottle is a blended scotch comprised of (according to the website) “seven of the island [Islay]’s classic malts alongside some of the finest grain available.” Since Islay only has eight active distilleries (Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, and the too-recently-opened Kilchoman) and it’s unlikely to contain any of the very rare and sought-after closed distilleries (Malt Mill, Port Ellen), I think we can safely say what’s in it. In fact, before Kilchoman opened, Black Bottle’s marketing verbage proudly proclaimed the inclusion of product from “all of Islay’s single malt distilleries”. The Black Bottle brand is now owned by Burn Stewart Distillers Ltd., which also owns Bunnahabhain, so it’s also a safe bet that a lot of that distillery’s malt makes it into the blend.

Black Bottle tends to win a lot of awards and has quite a following, even among malt-heads. Oh, here’s the kicker: this guy’s only about $20 a bottle in the US.

[Update/Warning 2/29/2016: In the comments below there have been multiple reports of recent bottlings of Black Bottle that were significantly inferior to the original bottlings. I haven’t had an opportunity to review the newer bottlings, so tread carefully. Consider this a “Try Before Buy” until I have a chance to do a new tasting.]

Nose: Tarry, earthy overtones, with a smoky barbeque sauce-like sweetness. Oh God, now I can’t smell anything but barbeque sauce! The alcohol tickle is piquant – despite the baseline 40% ABV, this crawls right up your nose. Undercurrents of chewing tobacco and mulching leaves.

Palate: Nice creamy mouthfeel. Green and vegetal up front, then some salted caramels and finally a burst of woodsmoke. Very tame on the tongue. Really, it’s very orderly for something that’s all Islay.

Finish: Only of medium length, despite all the peat. Sweet, burnt sugar, freshly-dug earth. Very mild bitterness in the back on the tongue. Remains sweet and smoky through the fade-out. Pleasant.

With Water: Several drops of water yield processed white sugar in the nose, but kill the smoke. Mouthfeel is not compromised, but the finish is more grassy and bitter. This doesn’t need water – I wouldn’t bother.

Overall: I can see why this has a following. It’s peaty in all the right ways, has the thick, viscous mouthfeel that only a blend with good grain whisky has, and is the right price. At $20, this blows The Black Grouse, Finlaggan, and the mildly-peated Johnnie Walker Black Label out of the water, no contest. Really, a $20 peated blend and I can’t find anything bad to say about it.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that this bottle is a perfect choice for mixed drinks that call for a smoky note. While most of us wouldn’t dream of pouring Lagavulin 16 into a shaker, Black Bottle has both the price point and the level of quality necessary to be great in a cocktail.

I suppose if you were jaded enough, you could say this blend is on the tame side of the peat spectrum. Personally when I’m in the mood for peat I want the full, intense single-malt experience, so I’m not likely to stock a bottle of this… but if you’ve been frustrated in your efforts to find a value blend and enjoy peat, this is your bottle. Either way, I’m calling it a “Must Have” because you can’t find a better peated blend – or almost any blend, for that matter – for this price.

Black Bottle Blended Scotch
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $18 - $25
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle purchased at Master of Malt)

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  • I bought this on Ralfy’s recommendation about a year ago and it took me a long time to choke down. Yes, it is inexpensive, but not at all what I can ever enjoy neat. I finally poured about 3-4 oz of Ardbeg 10 in it and it became acceptable. Probably okay as a mixer though. Too much grain and Bunna for my tastes.

    • I agree. I was pretty excited when I finally found this in one of my local stores, but I thought it was merely ok. I liked what I could taste of the malt, but I felt the grain was just too overpowering. For cheap blends, I was more impressed with Bank Note, despite the fact that I’m normally a big Islay fan.

      I’ll definitely give Black Bottle another try – I really want to like it, as a $20 peated blend is *very* appealing to me.

    • I agree completely, Robert. Tempted by the low price, I bought this after reading a favorable review in the Murray “Bible.” These things are always matter of taste, but it’s hard for me to understand the favorable review there or here. The whiskey has too much smoke for people who like fruitier Scotches and not nearly enough for any Islay fan. (As a Laphroaig loyalist, I found the stuff deeply unsatisfying.) It also has the kind of nasty, chemical finish seen with inexpensive blends. Perhaps that’s the “grain” that others mention.

      I ended up using this as my “Scotch on days when my tastebuds are out of whack” and was glad when it was gone. Never again.

  • I find Black Bottle just okay. I think as a mixer (though I can’t think of many drinks to use it in) it would work quite well. Perhaps the problem was that I managed to acquire Black Bottle 10 Year, which they no longer make, and it was head and shoulders above the standard bottling.

  • I have a strange account of black bottle. The first bottle I bought impressed me very much for a blend. It has some smoke and some peat (more peat than smoke). The second bottle I bought has lost it’s luster. It has a distinct vanilla/grainy note that has really began to bother me. I enjoy JWB’s smoke note more than this, and almost find Chivas 12 more satisfying, despite my enjoyment of Islay (laphroaig is my favorite.) I found the author’s Finlaggan comparison interesting…If you really want peat, Finlaggan blows this blend away. I honestly think Finlaggan, due to it’s young age probably, has as much peat as any malt on earth. It’s not as tasty or enjoyable, but Finlaggan truly rivals the Laphroaig 10 on pure smoke. Ir’s not complex at all (only peat, no other notes basically), but for budget peat needs, I’d have to recommend Finlaggan.
    All that being said, I still think Black Bottle is better than the majority of blends. It is in the same vain as JWB and Highland Park 12 if you ask me. Although greatly inferior to HP12 and on the same level with (price considered) with Johnnie Walker Black.
    I really enjoy your reviews though!

    • Thanks for your comments, Eric. I think a lot of people have said that Black Bottle has declined a bit, which is entirely possible considering the current difficulty of sourcing malt whisky in Scotland (due to massive demand).

  • I did buy the black bottle. I found it to be good for the price. Do not add water to this and it is drinkable. The smokey blend I prefer is Islay Mist. Islay Mist is smokey and sweet. It also sells for about the same as the black bottle. Give it a try.

  • Bought this on this site’s recommendation and haven’t been disappointed. I don’t have refined Scotch tastes, but I think it compares favorably to Glenlivet 12 for half the price and is FAR superior to Johnnie Walker Black.

  • I just a got a bottle of this and was underwhelmed. I will say it was better than JW in the under $30 range. I did did not find it better than the bottle of Black Grouse I had just about finished. Drinking both side by side the Grouse had far more distinct and rich flavors to me. I wonder if the black bottle has gone down a bit, like others are saying. Of course the black Grouse is a higher cost($18 vs $32). Will I drink it? sure for my tastes my go to bottle is one of the Ardbeg’s I keep for myself as real treat.

  • The quality of this product has diminished from a year ago when last purchased. The ratio of grain to malt has dramatically increased as the apparent quality and quantity of the malts within have diminished noticeably. Drinks hot and unbalanced.

  • This was on my list to try for quite a while. I finally got around to picking some up, but I’m very underwhelmed. The first taste was pleasing, but by the end of the glass I was wondering if I could stick with it. Very lackluster, not very smoky, harsh aftertaste. Yuck. At least I’m not out very much money!!

    Hopefully Al’s comment is true, otherwise my taste buds are way out of whack. I just read that they’re relaunching this blend, along with new packaging – hopefully it can return to its former self.

  • Black Bottle finally showed up at BevMo. My view is pretty much inline with our host. All the underwhelmed naysayers are showing off their snobbery IMHO. I admit Ralfy’s description of the nose as “glorious” is a little over the top but his motive is clearly expressed in his delight encouraging his fans to present Black Bottle blind to your local scotch snobs.

    I do agree with Ralfy that the water actually does aid the flavor. It’s fatter, in wine-tasting parlance, after the water. It’s not really smokey to start with but I don’t notice the loss of peat with a tbls of water that some noted.

    Darn good whiskey. I’ll keep it on the shelf for sure. It tastes great and has the spine of grain to mix well for guests. It’s no single malt celebrity but I’m sure to go through a dozen Black Bottles for every Glendronach Revival.

  • I’ve been reading how there is a new formula for Black Bottle, along with a return to the black bottle instead of the green. In Illinois, I found a lot of the older green bottles in stock at Binny’s, but can’t find the new ones. Has anyone tried to compare the new to the older formula. From what I can see online, the new formula is not all Islay, and not nearly as peated.

    • I just opened the new bottle after finishing an old green one. The liquid is a lot darker (i.e. more caramel) and I mainly taste brown sugar. Not even close to the old stuff. I would not recommend this over Grant’s, which to me sets the baseline for good affordable blends.

      For a blend similar to old stuff, check out Té Bheag.

  • How does it compare with Buchannan’s which is mildly peaty and a reasonable price? Also, how about Teacher’s which no one has mentioned yet? Not bad stuff.

  • Yes, Black Bottle is good, but is it far better, or even better at all, than a number of other blends you trash, such as Dewars WL? I’d say, no. In fact, I doubt if you, or many, could pass a blind taste test on Black Bottle versus JW Red. Yes, Red, not Black. I think your blend reviews reflect an understandable prejudice aginst the mass-market blends. Understandable but not reflective of reality.

    • Steve,
      Prejudice or not, I like what I like and I dislike what I dislike. I have no agenda. I have no stock in single malt distilleries. Every blogger on the web is variously accused of this kind of slant, and I don’t know what kind of conspiracy people think is going on. I taste a blend, I dislike it, I write about it. Sometimes the opposite happens, and I write about that. It’s as stupid-simple as that. There are plenty of excellent blends (Bank Note, for example, and Great King Street) that I rate highly. Why? Because I have some kind of deep-seated hatred of Dewars that I’m quietly plotting their demise by dissuading a handful of blog readers per week? No. Because I think they taste good. Period.

  • Scotch Noob, I don’t mean to imply that you’re “plotting” a conspiracy against the mass-market blends, such as WL. But there is a certain “romance” to the small volume labels — call it the exclusivity that comes with something less common, or easily available. But I also think many scoff at the mass-market blends because of a general impression in educated society that anything that’s mass marketed is for the “masses” and thus garbage, or unsophisticated, at best. I find that when friends ask for a recommendation on a blend for their bar, and I say Dewars WL or JWR, they look at me as if I must not know scotch and that I’ve just repeated what I saw on a recent billboard. But if I say Black Bottle, they’re impressed — since they’ve never heard of it — and they act as if I just let them in on a secret known only to the chosen few (which they certainly want to be part of). Regardless, I agree Black Bottle is good. But it’s not that much better than DWL or JWR.

  • Not so fast people. Better read the label on your classic green bottle. The old label read:

    “This rich golden blend contains malts from each of the distilleries on Scotland’s most revered whisky producing island, Islay.”

    It contained seven Islay malts and was simply lovely. And how ’bout the green bottle but with the new label? Hope you’re sitting down…

    “This blended Scotch marries Islay malts with Highland, Speyside and Lowland malt and grain whiskies”.

    And this was before the new black glass bottle. Diageo has completed prostituted this once fine product and in devious fashion to boot. This is an insult to all – like me – who thought I was purchasing the real and classic product. Shame on them. Join us by boycotting Diageo as much as you can. In the case of the badly altered Black Bottle, that’ll be easy.

  • Same experience as everyone else. Purchased a bottle of the “original” blend and could not believe how good it was for the price. Purchased a second bottle and immediately knew something was terribly wrong. Compared the labels and lo and behold they were different. What a disappointment. What a crying shame for the world to lose such a great value blend.

  • Anyone comparing Black Bottle vs. a single malt or pricier blend is an idiot. You have to compare apples with apples. It’s a $20 Scotch not $30 not $40 or $50. I do not think this is the best $20 Scotch you can find, I know it is. Prove me wrong.

    • I prefer Bank Note, which is actually cheaper ($20 / 1 L in northern CA). Is it better? That’s subjective, since they’re such different whiskies (peated vs non-peated for one thing). I’ve also had bad batches of Black Bottle before, so I’m gunshy about buying any more. I compare blends to single malts all the time, but I always do so on a price basis, and for the purpose of sipping not mixing. Thanks for your opinion.

    • Cameron, The old Black Bottle was about as good a Scotch Blend around —- for $20. The new Black Bottle, I don’t know. I have seen a number of bad reviews. Slainte, Richard

    • Black Bottle is $19.99 where I shop in SC. For $3 more I can get Glen Moray Port Cask finish (Single Malt, not that it matters) – blows the BB out of the water! If sticking with a strict $20, I’ll take Bank Note all day long.

  • I know they use Deanston in this blend.. at their distillery they sell bottles of Black Bottle, and told me they are big component of Black Bottle.. and if you think about it, Black Bottle tastes like a mix of Islay, Deanston 12yr, and perhaps some grain alcohol to keep it cheap

  • Picked up a bottle of the new version 5/8/15. This tastes nothing like scotch. It tastes like bourbon. I suspect they are ‘cleaning out’ the newly acquired bourbon barrels with grain whisky, and then bottling it here. For the $20 I spent, it is ok, but I could get 2x much (and better) Kentucky bourbon for that price. If you are looking for a cheap, basic daily Islay, I think McClelland’s is a good budget brand to try.

  • The bottle of “Gordon Graham’s Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky” which I bought last night says it’s “Curiously rich & slightly smoky whisky crafted to a secret family recipe.” It does not taste at all smoky to me, and comes in a very dark bottle with a flattened shape, not what’s pictured above. It is also bottled by Burn Stewart Distillers. Still pretty cheap, at $25 (in Colorado), and reasonably smooth, but not at all what I was hoping for.

  • I had high hopes for this one after reading somewhere they use Caol Ila in the blend. I was surprised by the dark color and found it a bit thin and too sweet. It is ok I guess for the price but I would not really recommend it. A better blend in the same price range is Grand Macnish black label it had more peat and was less sweet.

  • Unfortunately, I should have scrolled down to read the comments!
    After reading this review and others, praising the original version of this blend, I bought a bottle. As the comments indicate, though, the product has completely changed. There’s barely even a hint of Islay in this now. Overall a huge “meh” and just another blend for mixing. (Something tells me the “must have” rating would be downgraded upon re-review.)
    Love the blog!

  • Methinks you are all being a wee bit harsh on Black Bottlr. Maybe Noob’s must try rating raised expectations too high? (Sorry, Noob. You are a convenient target!) But, to quote the great one, Black Bottle ‘is what it is.’ It’s an inexpensive blend. If you want to sip a quality dram neat, go for a single malt. But if you are looking for something to mix with a bit of ginger or soda, BB is better than a lot of other blends. And it’s just $25, in New England. Tough to beat. Like all things out of New England.

  • As an older post made reference, I think my expectations of this were too high as I’ve seen some prominent whiskey voices give high praise to this expression. I think it is okay~decent for the low price point, but by no means should you go in thinking this will be steal of the industry and be on par with some of the more complex (and pricey) expressions.

    Having tried several others over a couple years and revisiting Black Bottle, I would probably spend the extra 20$~$30 for one I personally enjoy more as I can casually sip a bottle over a span of 1-3months (In rotation with other expressions). What I have left will be used for mixing or pawned off as I can’t get passed a cough syrup-like taste which I previously didn’t notice.

  • I’d rate the new version of Black Bottle “Avoid”, frankly…unless you’re a fan of cloying, overpowering caramel. Because that’s about all you can taste with the new version. Hard no.

  • Yeah, same. I am a fan of this blog, but there needs to be an update instead of just a note. The product I bought a year ago in the fully blacked out bottle had a palate and finish so shockingly thin, it withered away to mere ethanol fumes before it even made it to the back of my tongue. An experience akin to a dizzying sniff of 70% isopropyl mixed with powdered sugar. AVOID.

  • When the blend changed in 2016 I was fortunate that my local shop had a few bottles of the previous blend remaining which I snapped up. The latest blend is a travesty to the history of the brand. Not got anything special going for it now – sad.