I suppose it’s natural to get a bit carried away and lose a bit of focus when writing about whisky. Forgive me, I’m human, perhaps with a bit of ADD / memory loss as the years go on. When I re-read my piece about Black Bottle whisky I realised that I forgot to focus on the whisky! So here is an updated version…Cheers!
I should’ve suspected that the launch of the new Black Bottle whisky was going to be a bit different to the usual shindig when the invitation said nobody would be allowed into the venue after 6.p.m. After all, this is Cape Town, where punctuality comes for a holiday.
The instructions were to go to the back entrance of the Cape Town Club, meet a Mr McCloud and tell him a secret password to gain entrance. Ok, I thought, I’ll play along, and so I took the stairs deep down under Keerom Street into a dark dungeon, filled with assorted press people and bloggers. There was not a drop of whisky to be seen, which worried me. I had visions of the movie Hostel, where gorgeous women lure innocent travellers into torture chambers. Was this the end? I thought back to the start of the evening… the lovely Sam Kaye arrived when I did, a couple of promo ladies in short skirts escorted me down the stairs in the dungeon…it was all pointing towards a messy end.
Thankfully entertainment arrived in the form of a Miss Ruby who set the scene. And the scene was a speakeasy in prohibition era America. Phew, a sigh of relief.
But wait – into another dark room, where Illusionist / magician / scarily entertaining guy Marcel Oudejans did some money and mind tricks that could cause worldwide havoc if used for perverse pleasures. We escaped, dignity intact, if slightly dazed and confused.
The main event, the whisky, lived up to the hype. It is richer, bolder than the previous release, higher malt content from Speyside, perhaps a bit more age and very clever new packaging. A splash of water opens the spirit to reveal toffee, fresh fruits, and the finish is pleasantly long for a youngish whisky.
Mr Black told the story of Gordon Graham, Black Bottle creator, whisky maverick, the visionary in a family of accountants, who sadly passed on 8 months after marriage. That left no male to run his business, so his wife took over, 100 years before it became “acceptable” for women to run distilleries…
Whisky legend Pierre Meintjies was on hand to answer any questions falling outside of the script. We moved to another dark room for superb cocktails from Don Sheehan and his team and music, some old school jazz, via Patrick Craig’s team of Three Blind Mice.
Back to the whisky. While the previous incarnations of Black Bottle trumpeted the fact that the blend contained whisky from all the active Islay distilleries, the new version makes no such claim. It makes sense, I suppose, because with stocks running low there may have been some resistance from some of the Islay distilleries to share their whisky with a competitor. But what I think happened is that the smoke component has now been filled by Ledaig, part of the Bunnahabhain family and there is a new and very welcome richness in the whisky.
Is it a new version or a different whisky? I’d say something in-between. It is richer than the version we know, but less smoky, and of course there will be those who like the new version and those who don’t. Peatfreaks could be disappointed – but I suggest they buy a bottle and give it a try, because the complexity from the sweeter highland whiskies as opposed to the traditional Islay whiskies is real treat. Personally, I prefer the new Black Bottle. I’m also looking forward to putting a few mates together for a bit of a tasting and Skype call with the Master Distiller, after the holidays.
With a price point around R 240, a true whisky lover should go out and do two things: try get your hands on one of the old and one of the new. And then sit down and compare, play around, see what’s the same, what’s different.
And then it ended, with word of a police raid to break up the happy Prohibition Party.
It was a very clever, creative, way to launch the whisky. And the whisky responded, brilliantly.