Some things ARE Black And White

Taste Review #65 – Black and White Blended Whisky (1950’s Bottling)


How many times have we heard that things were better in days gone by? It’s certainly something that I’ve heard plenty of times and in some cases there may be a bit of justification in that statement. As a child of the early 70’s, I have very happy memories, but then again I also remember strikes, power cuts, uncollected trash and expensive fuel – so not everything was better. As we have propelled ourselves from the 20th century into the 21st, things are much improved. But is whisky?

Getting us into a sense of perspective, I’d suggest that this may not be true. Having a greater selection doesn’t mean that things are better for the whisky world than they were. Pressures of shareholders and demand have accelerated the need for production resulting I would say there a rising blandness in the whisky world and while none of the whiskies are bad as such, I feel there is much of a muchness.

This week’s sample has come from Cheaper By The Dram, managed by Whisky and Antique specialist Mark Littler. You might remember that I have done a series on cask purchases with his help and have also reviewed one of his other releases, the 12 year old Glenturret. This dram has come as a thank you for some help that I had given Mark – I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was overjoyed to be given a sample of whisky from the 1950’s – Black and White Blend. It has always been my ambition to taste a whisky from that era. An abortive attempt to do so occurred a couple of years ago with the purchase of a Glen Spey blended whisky at auction. I had questions over the provenance and authenticity of the bottling once I received it so had decided to keep it as an oddity rather than a drinking bottle.

Regular readers have probably noticed a relative lack of blends in my reviews and I give no apology for the fact that I don’t drink them often. That’s because I strive to find a character in a distillery through its single malt and that’s something that I look for. I’m not a snob and do not think that blends are inferior, but they don’t appeal to me so much. A telephone conversation with Mark led him to put the supposition ‘that a single malt is like a virtuoso violinist, yet a decent blend is like a whole orchestra’ with all the components in its correct place for maximum enjoyment. So I had to smile when I saw the cover note with this latest CBTD delivery. See below.


The orchestra is tuning!

And I have to say there may be a grain of truth in that, but we will see later whether or not this will be true in this case. Speaking of cases, this one arrived in its usual secure packaging with minimal information contained within. This is partly to discourage re-sale of these bottles at auction and to me it helps provide focus to the whisky itself, partly like a blind tasting where few if any details are known about the spirit.


Secure packaging

Black and White is amongst of the oldest whisky blends still being produced . It’s owner, James Buchanan supplied blended whisky that was made by Glasgow blenders W.P Lowrie. It was initially marketed as Buchanan’s, and was packaged in darkened bottles with white labels and was commonly known as Black and White whisky (which was to become the official name of the blend from 1902.) From 1885 this was supplied to the House Of Commons and was renamed Buchanan’s House of Commons Fine Old Highland whisky.

By the early 1900’s the logo of the whisky was to become an Aberdeen Terrier (also known as a Scottie Dog) and a West Highland Terrier. To help provide more whisky for his popular blends, Lowrie and Buchanan founded the Glentauchers Distillery beside Keith and also eventually obtained Convalmore Distillery in Dufftown when Buchanan bought out Lowrie in 1906. The whisky that Buchanan was producing was good enough to obtain Royal Warrants from Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York in 1898.

By 1915, Buchanan had joined forces with Dewars, becoming known as Buchanan Dewars in 1919. By 1925 they merged with John Walker & Son and Distillers Company Limited (DCL), now part of Diageo.

As we know, blended whisky was made as an alternative to low quality single malts. Blended whisky was smoother, more consistent and easier to drink. After the invention of the Coffey Continuous Still, grain whisky was easier and more efficient to make. When the law changed in 1860 to allow the sale of blended of malt and grain whiskies, single malt fell out of favour. Even now, blended whisky outstrips consumption of single malt. It may shock you to know that roughly 90% of Scotch whisky goes into blends.

So, is this whisky any good now, and how does it compare to current blends? There is only one way to find out….


The sample

Details

RegionBLEND Age – NAS Strength – 40% ColourBurnished. NoseOld linen, vanilla, strawberry, apple, walnut. Palate – Very light. Slight smoke in the back ground. Apple, oak, slightly tannic. Finish Wood spices, light peat, brine, lemon, slightly drying and warming.


The dram

Conclusions

I started this article by wondering if things were truly better in the past. I’m still none-the-wiser as to whether this can be verified. What I can tell you is that this is a dram that is definitely unlike a lot of whisky that I have drunk recently. It definitely has that old fashioned feel to it; light but with a certain amount of meatiness. Fruit is in the fore, and one wonders if this is an influence of stock from Convalmore, a now silent distillery that had long fermentation and slow distillation.

And it is when I think of Convalmore, I had a slight epiphany. This is a blend made in the 50’s. The whisky in it may have been made in the 1930’s or 40’s. As a consumer we do not know exactly what whisky is actually in the blend, but I got a slight Highland peat (as opposed to Islay) and a brine note. It is highly likely we are drinking a blend that contains substance from more than one silent distillery and using a process long consigned to history. At this point nearly every distillery would have been using traditional malting floors, so perhaps it does make a difference. Other whiskies that are known to be in this blend are Dalwhinnie, Port Dundas, Glendullan and Clynelish. Perhaps the latter gave the brine note?

The nose of old linen takes me back to my first review of a CBTD whisky, the 12 year old Glenturret from the 1980’s which had a musky taste about it too. It took a bit of getting used to, but once I realised it was just a more traditional style, I really enjoyed it. The nose in this case was just a linen note that provoked evocative memories of my childhood visiting my great-grandparents in their croft on the outskirts of Aberdeen. This old style whisky conjured up happy memories of a bygone age and that is sometimes what tasting a whisky as an enthusiast is about – letting the aroma and tastes play in your mind as you try to describe them as you recall the occasions you last experienced these sensations.

Putting my thoughts into a neat package, the only recent whisky that I can truly compare this whisky to is the Lost Distilleries Blend. While that was a cask strength blend consisting only of silent distilleries, not all of the whisky in that blend is likely to be relatively old, circa the 1980’s. I didn’t really enjoy that blend for what it cost – a full bottle is £300+. But it’s been blended for modern tastes. Black and White is from a different era – where men were men and didn’t have top knot hairstyles or man bags, children were supposed to be seen and not heard and wives only had to do housework and have their husbands tea ready for when they come home. Yes, not everything in the past was better, but this relatively uncomplex blend gives us modern whisky drinkers a glimpse into whisky past – something that is essential to do for those of us on a whisky journey of discovery. For it is true that it is harder to appreciate the present and the future without a good grasp on what has gone before.

And that is not a bad thing.

Availability of this 3cl dram which costs £14 from Cheaper By The Dram is now limited. Given the full size bottle can be around £300 on the auction sites, this is very little to spend to enhance your whisky experiences. Black And White does not seem to be available for sale in the U.K. at the moment, but the modern equivalent is available cheaply in Europe, in some cases only £12-£15 a bottle. Keep an eye out for this at auction, but if you are quick, you may just get the last samples at Cheaper By The Dram store. Perhaps Mark / CBTD may obtain more in the future and for those of us who want to compare old style whisky to new style, this would make a most excellent comparison. Should more become available I’d certainly be willing to drink it again. As I don’t score my whisky, this would get a “recommended and would buy again” comment instead. And that is definitely high praise.

Thanks go to Mark Littler for supplying this sample. I wasn’t that optimistic about a blend to start with when I saw it arrive, but I’m really glad I did not miss out as it was delicious and a worthwhile journey into the past. Remember, sip don’t flip!

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

Photos – Authors Own

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This Is Not A Drive-By.

Taste Review #57 – Glentauchers 1991 (G&M)

Glentauchers is one of those distilleries that flies beneath the radar. I have to say that it doesn’t seem to be well known at all. And in all fairness, I fly past it on a regular basis as it is right beside the A95, halfway between the Morayshire town of Keith and the hamlet of Mulben. Flying past it is maybe stretching it a bit. There is a bend right beside the distillery houses where a bridge also narrows the carriageway slightly. Up until 5 years ago or so, there was also a strange camber on the road as you went over the bridge which used to force you out into the middle of the road as you went round the bend. I’ve lost count of how many times I have passed it and almost needed a change of underwear. Yet still have to sit and review one of its whiskies.


Glentauchers Distillery

The Glentauchers distillery was another of those distilleries built at the end of the 1890’s, and was established by James Buchanan & Co. to provide fillings for its Black And White blend. This was to become a role that the distillery was to play for its whole life so far, as one of those distilleries whose main purpose is to provide whiskies for blends. As was the case for so many distillery companies, James Buchanan eventually merged with DCL, which would eventually become part of Diageo, although this was not the fate for this distillery – it wasn’t to survive the whisky downturn in the 1980’s and was mothballed at the same time as Convalmore which was also formerly owned by Buchanan / DCL. However, fate was kinder to Glentauchers than it was to Convalmore, and it was bought by Allied Distillers in 1989, with full production resuming in 1992. By 2005, Allied Distillers became part of the Chivas empire, whose parent company are Pernod Ricard.

Today, Glentauchers still carries on, and has been used as a training distillery by Pernod Ricard. Apparently it is a distillery that has limited automation, ensuring that staff have to learn how to distill whisky manually. The malting floors are not part of this as their operation ceased in 1969.

The Glentauchers distillery despite sitting right beside a main road does not have the have the same visibility, yet finding bottles of Glentauchers is not hard. There are plenty of bottlings available from independent bottlers. I own a couple, one being from First Cask, and another being a bottle in the Dancing Stag range from Robert Graham. A quick look online sees that there are bottles available from many of the well known independents such as That Boutiquey Whisky Company, Signatory, Douglas Laing, Berry Bros, but most notably is Gordon & Macphail, probably the oldest continually operating independent bottler, based in the Morayshire town of Elgin, and it is from this bottler we have this week’s sample.

Finding original bottlings of Glentauchers are few and far between. As mentioned above, it is a spirit usually for providing for blends, notably Ballantines. There has been official bottlings – there was a 12 year old released in the 1980’s and in 2000 it was part of a set of 6 different whiskies released by Allied Distillers – all at 46% and 15 years old, meaning that in the case of Glentauchers they were using the DCL distillate. In 2017 an official bottling was released at 15 y.o under the Ballantines brand.


The Bottle

Region

Speyside

Age / Vintage

1991 / 16 years (Bottled 2007)

Strength

43%

Colour

Pale Gold

Nose

Peaches, Honey, biscuity cereals, vanilla, slight apple note. To start with I got a hint of solvent, but that disappeared after I left the glass to sit and breath.

Palate

Slightly oily mouthfeel, yet still quite light. No real overpowering flavours. Spicy oak note with a little fizz on arrival. Sweet, apples, honey, toffee, hay. Hint of lemon peel. Spicy notes soften with the addition of water.

Finish

Short to medium. Oak, slightly bitter, lemon. After water added very slight vegetal taste on departure.

Conclusions

This was a long time coming and I am disappointed in myself that I waited so long to taste this whisky. I’ve always liked the appearance of the G&M distillery bottlings. They look bold and classic, even reminiscent of a bygone age. You see I am a bit of a romanticist about Scottish Malt Whisky, and I prefer to think of it as just a wee industry and not the global behemoth it has become. The diagonal distillery name sloping up to the right reminds me strongly of that other Buchanan owned distillery, Convalmore. If you look at the Diageo Special releases from 2006, 2013 or 2017 you’ll see why.

But we have to move away from the labels, as they do not make whisky taste any better. I didn’t know really what to expect from this whisky, as it is one I have not had before, and I have to say I was very impressed. I drank most of my sample neat, but as towards the end of typing this out, I noticed time was marching on and it was nearly bed time. So, rather than neck it, I decided to see how things would play out with water.

As it was 43%, I didn’t really think it needed water. I really enjoyed the dram neat. I am sure that if it was delivered at a higher ABV, I would definitely be adding water to maybe soften it to get a great easy drinker. My dram from the previous night was a Lagavulin 16, and at 43% that was also drunk without water, and was fully enjoyable, yet I didn’t get all the complexity that you can find in Lagavulin. However getting back to Glentauchers, I don’t feel that there is a complexity there to find in this bottle, but that’s ok. Not everything has to be a challenge and it is important that we remember that we drink whisky because we enjoy it. Constantly seeking for something that isn’t there is just going to lead to a disappointment and spoil what is actually a decent dram.

I paid £7.80 for my 5CL sample in the Edinburgh Woollen Mill in Inverness. It’s a very touristy shop, and I was only in there to conduct some business connected to my wife’s business. It was when walking past the till I noticed the miniatures for sale. Of course, in a shop like this, you know that you are probably paying over the odds, but this is a bottle I always wanted to try. I had the chance to buy the 1996 bottle, but I noticed this 1991 hiding behind a few others. Going by the flawed mantra of older is better, I dug this one out – if I remember rightly it was also cheaper, so it satisfied the needs of my inner Aberdonian. Result!

A little bit of research into the bottling codes on the label reveal that this was bottled in 2007, which makes it 16 years old. I had seen something about the 1991 vintage also being bottled in 2010, but this is unconfirmed. This means the distillery was definitely producing before coming out of mothballs in 1992, and this must be some of the first spirit created by Allied Distillers.


Glentauchers in Allied Distillers collection circa 2000

While this bottle is discontinued, a quick look on auction sites reveals that it is available under £50, and if you are lucky this will also include auction fees, though you might have to add a little more to also cover the P&P. I think that this represents good value, and I would be happy to pay that for this dram. Therefore you will not be surprised to find out that I do recommend this whisky and if I see this as a 70cl bottle, I would be happy to buy it for my drinking collection. It would be sad to miss it, just as I miss the hair raising adrenalin rush of going round the bend next to the distillery now the camber has been sorted. My undercrackers are more grateful though,

One last tip before I go – I forgot to mention that there is no such place as Glentauchers. The distillery was built on the site of Tauchers Farm, and Tauchers Wood is on the other side of the road. Thought I’d better mention it in case you want to have a pilgrimage up a non-existent Glen.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own