These words put together mean a variety of things to the general public; whether it’s a dodgy pop song or a glorious classic silent film. The phrase black and white is iconic and timeless so it’s apt that to whisky enthusiasts it prompts memories of a classic blend and two little troublesome Scottish dogs.
In my whisky den, sat in the corner is a smelted metal promotional image of the aforementioned dogs. Stumbling across this in Florida of all places it is a heavy beast but one that had to be repatriated back to Scotland. This tool of promotion may stem from the same period as this particular bottling i.e. the 1960’s. The bottle I’ve photographed isn’t the one that was opened but is similar, and let’s be honest it looks far more appealing than an image of a sample.
The iconic blend from James Buchanan has its roots in his Buchanan blended Scotch in the 1880’s. This was adorned with a simple presentation to stand out on the shelf, namely a black bottle with a crisp white label. This affectionately became known as black & white and Buchanan took advantage of this reference by placing it upon the label. In the 1890’s the two Scottish terriers joined the label to create the presentation we all know today. James himself had an interesting life and like many of the whisky men of the era seized upon the opportunity that blended Scotch offered to the masses. I’d recommend the book from Allen Andrews simply called the Whisky Barons, which contains the journeys not only of Buchanan, but also Bell, Walker, Mackie and Dewar. Their lasting legacies today are the iconic brands that still dominate sales of blended Scotch.
Sadly these blends including Black and White are not the powerhouses they once were due to modern practises in the whisky industry. Black and White still exists but is rarely seen on shelves in the UK nowadays as Diageo prefer to focus on their Johnnie Walker blended range. Instead if you want to see why old blends are so popular today amongst enthusiasts then the best route is to try one of the various auctions sites.
Recently, older blends are attracting increased attention as they still represent good value for money. Quite often they also deliver on flavour. The old blenders were more focused on the experience than the bottom line, or it seems that way to me whilst I acknowledge profits still had to be made. Reputation and the whisky came first whilst the profit margins were arguably next whereas today it’s the reverse. Back then, stocks of older and more varied whiskies were available for blending. The decades prior to the 1970’s are ones devoid of computerisation, yields and production efficiencies. The movement towards these features did begin in 1960’s across certain distilleries yet for all intents and purposes the crossroads had not been breached.
A notable factor are the casks themselves as many would have been felled from older trees, whereas today these efficiencies have also snared the creation of casks commencing with the harvesting of forests. It’s all too easy to say when I was a lad things were much better. Single malts were not the driving force that they are today. A Scotch was a blend and the marketplace offered plenty of competition.
Whenever I’m looking at an auction nowadays, apart from my favourite topic of closed distilleries, the next area of interest are the blends as they’re always appearing given they were mass produced. These offer the whisky, a certain level of affordability and quite often are stunningly adorned with some of the most imaginative of labels from a bygone period. Its drinkable history and even your average blends from this period surpass many today for the above reasons and their higher concentration of malt as opposed to grain whisky.
The 1960’s Black and White here was purchased as part of a bottle share, opened and decanted before being sent on its merry way. History lesson over, it’s time for the fun part of any whisky review.
Colour: dark amber
Nose: a molten caramel festering and some sherry aspect in the roughage namely raisins and a degree of waxiness. There’s an element of paraffin oil, almonds, honey and a cutting freshness from sunflower oil and leathery notes followed by Caramac.
Taste: oh my now this is flavour a big malty arrival and more of those sherry influences noted on the nose, but a subtle crescendo before it gently seeps away into a peppery honey glazed finish. Just a hint of smoke that you’ll see in these old blends backed up by a gentle soot, dark chocolate and dirty vanilla.
Overall: a perfectly pleasant nose but on the palate this blend truly comes alive. If blends tasted like this today, then single malts wouldn’t be required. A dram that you can sit back and spend a pleasant even with whether in company or not. I just glance across my whisky den at some of the modern bottlings I have and ask where has it all gone wrong?