The Black Bottle is a whisky that I’ve anticipated for some time. It has a legendary status on the internet as a remarkably good whisky for a reasonable price. I had hopes it might topple Johnny Walker Black as the two-Jackson ($40) standard bottling to keep in the liquor cabinet. JWB serves as a standard for balance and reasonable complexity around here.
But as the redoubtable Ralfy commented in Review #450, the bottling has apparently changed. In his review #16, from 2009, he talked of golden syrup, fresh fruit and integrated peat. The color was a light gold – he even referred to them backing off on the caramel coloring.
Well, I’ve been wondering how much of Ralfy’s re-reviews have been influenced by his development in palate over the years, as he often has said how whiskies have changed (and rarely for the better). The only way to know for sure if a whisky is any good is to taste for ones’ self. In this case, he’s spot on. In the later review, he talks of graininess and sappiness, from freshly conditioned oak. I have to agree. The Black Bottle as it stands today is very spicy, verdant, like a bottle full of green peppers – with a little black pepper mixed in. It is, as you can see from the photo below, pretty dark as well, comparable to the JWB pictured beside it (Johnny Walker not being shy with their use of caramel colorant).
Nose: Apple blossom, plums, cinnamon, this is a lively nose.
Palate: Wow, a mouthful of spice. Black pepper, green peppers, some caramel sweetness behind; a touch of citrus. This is not a layabout on the tongue. Not a trace of smoke or peat here, or of earthiness.
Finish: Crisp, drying tannins, lingering pepper.
Bottom line: I would not call this smooth. It’s not harsh, but it is a very young, lively whisky. It reminds me of the 2-year-old malt a local distillery was tasting at a farmer’s market last week. Yowie. I’m not saying this is bad, but be ready for what you get. If you’re looking for something that even remotely challenges Johnny Walker Black for a few less bucks, forget it. JWB (where I shop) is only 6 or 7 bucks more (+20%), and it is a much smoother whisky. A bit dull in comparison but JWB is well-crafted, balanced, and does have a hint of smoke and peat.
Is it the best pick of the double-Jackson ($40) crowd? Well, stay tuned for the upcoming Battle of the Two-Jacksons.