Friday, July 27, 2007

Last Night's Tipple

It can often be a significant challenge to figure out who actually owns a whisky brand (or any spirits brand). The world of spirits has been in almost perpetual flux, and that flux has increased in tempo since the great spirits conglomerates began a wave of consolidation in the 1990s. One would buy another (or two equals would merge) and then sell off some of the brands that overlapped in the united portfolios. Keeping straight who owns what is difficult, especially since corporate parents sometimes like to obfuscate their parentage to give the brand an image as a lonely, small, independent producer. Better romance that way, you see.

And so it was that it took me a good deal of digging to figure out which conglomerate owns Black Bottle, a blended Scotch whisky that has the unique distinction of including whisky from all seven operational Islay malt distilleries. Black Bottle is a venerable Scotch blend, having begun life in Aberdeen in 1879, the property of the three Graham brothers, who had begun their commercial life as tea blenders and merchants. The blend was a success (remember that the late Victorian period was the golden age of Scotch), and the brothers eventually abandoned tea blending and concentrated on Scotch blending. The company remained in Graham family until 1964, when it was sold to Lohn John, another blender. Over the next two and a half decades, the Black Bottle blend fell upon hard times and became a shadow of its former self. It was sold to Allied Distillers in 1990 and began its revival. Here's where the confusion begins. I presume that Allied Distillers was a division of Allied Brewers, which later became Allied Lloyd. Allied Lloyd merged with Domecq in the mid-'90s to form Allied-Domecq, which in turn was bought by Pernod-Ricard in 2005. At the time of the Pernod-Ricard purchase, some of the former Allied-Domecq brands were sold to Fortune Brands and to Diageo. The Black Bottle blend is now owned by Burn Stewart Distillers, which is a division of CL WorldBrands and it is blended and bottled at the Bunnahabhain distillery on Islay, which Burn Stewart also owns. The question is, how did it get there? So far as I can tell, Bunnahabhain was never owned by Allied, Allied-Domecq, Pernod-Ricard, Fortune Brands, or Diageo, and I have never seen mention of Burn Stewart purchasing any brands during this series of acquisitions that I summarized above. So, unfortunately, I am clueless about this.

Black Bottle has two expressions: the regular bottling and the 10 year old version. Both have the claim to fame of being the only blends that have malts from all seven operating Islay distilleries. The standard bottling is 80 proof, and the 10 year old is 86. I have the 10 year old version. It's a testament to just how much peated Islay whiskies can dominate anything that they are blended with. The nose is smoky and peaty, and I swear that I could smell Laphroaig and Lagavulin. It's lighter on the palate than a malt Islay, though, and there is some grain whisky sweetness, too. A very nice dram, especially if you like peated whisky.

1 comment:

Armin said...

Strictly speaking Islay has eight operational distilleries ;-)

Although one of them (Kilchoman) won't go anywhere for a wee while as it is too young. And I doubt they'll ever go into any blends, considering their size.