As the story goes, the idea for Black Bull blended Scotch whisky came to George Willsher, a Dundee grocer, in 1864. Grocers in Scotland commonly also sold spirits, and frequently created their own blended whiskies for sale (Dewar’s, Johnnie Walker are two well-known whiskies that started in the same way!) George Willsher’s vision was to create a high malt content blended whisky with roughly 50% single malt whisky and 50% single grain whisky, blended and bottled at a strength of 100 US proof or 50% abv. Black Bull eventually moved into the continental European markets in 1897 and first showed up in the US in 1933 following the repeal of Prohibition when George Willsher & Co. filed a trademark application for Black Bull “Pride of the North” Special Highland Whisky.
At one point Black Bull sold as many as 80,000 cases in the US, but then, for many years Black Bull sort of fell off the radar in the US. Fortunately, when Duncan Taylor acquired the brand in 2001, they embarked on a program to reestablish its market presence. In 2009 they released a 30 year-old, and in 2010 they released a 12 year-old and a 40 year-old version. Expanding on the range, Duncan Taylor issued a Special Reserve bottling in 2011, in 2013 they issued Kyloe, a NAS release, and 2014 saw the most recent version hit the market, a 21 year-old bottling.
The bottle we have today is Black Bull 40 year-old, Batch 3. This batch is a blend of 85.6% single malt whiskies and 14.4% single grain whiskies ranging in age from 40-44 years and coming from the following distilleries: Bunnahabhain, Ben Nevis, Glen Grant, Caperdonich, Highland Park, (single malts) and Invergordon (grain). The whisky is bottled with no chill-filtration and no added coloring.
Bottled in 2012 this whisky is described as “cask strength” even though it is bottled at just 41.6% abv. Given the age of this whisky, chances are that this whisky is a vatting of casks that included some whiskies that had fallen below the minimum 40% abv level to be defined as Scotch whisky and boosted by casks with higher abv rates. Also, as a cask strength bottling, this whisky was not subject to any additional dilution prior to bottling. Finally, it has been difficult to validate, but I believe that this is a vatting of 80% ex-Bourbon cask and 20% Sherry cask matured whiskies.
Black Bull 40 yo, Batch 3 was awarded a GOLD medal at the 2013 International Spirits Challenge, where over 400 Scotch Whiskies were blindly tasted a panel of judges that included 15 different worldwide master distillers and master blenders, such as: the chief blender of Nikka Whisky, Tadashi Sakuma, the chief blender of Nikka Whisky, the Balvenie’s malt master, David Stewart, Colin Scott, the master blender at Chivas Brothers, and the master blender at Whyte and Mackay, Richard Paterson!
With such a prestigious list of judges who awarded this whisky a Gold Medal, we should have a pretty special experience ahead of us! (Well, okay, in the interest of complete disclosure, I have sampled this bottled several times already I know this will be wonderful!)
And, if you’re interested in another perspective, Ralfy reviewed this version on his YouTube vLog – click on the photo to view it! Ralfy is part of the worldwide Malt Maniacs group and has produced an extensive list of video whisky reviews that are very informative and presented in a very down-to-earth manner.
Review: Black Bull 40 yo, Batch 3, Blended Scotch Whisky
Color: Light Amber.
Nose: Intensely fruity, ripe red apples, berries, melons and tropical fruits, along with some orange marmalade and raisins. Notes of pipe tobacco, cocoa, hints of white pepper and herbal spices – cardamom, thyme, and a hint of cumin. Warm vanilla extract, butterscotch, a delicate sweet maltiness and a whiff of fresh oak. But this remains predominantly a richly fruity nose. Water brings out more citric aromas – orange and grapefruit – along with more malty cereal notes and more of the oakiness. Gains some soft floral notes with time.
Taste: Sweet vanilla and, again, big fruits on the arrival. A touch of grapefruit adds a nice citric-tangy complement to the sweetness. The fruits just continue to expand in the mid-palate. The flavors are very vibrant and dense. And it is nicely viscous on the tongue. Great body! Toffee apple, warm honey and vanilla. The spices of the nose are very delicate, with a softly peppery note at the tail-end. With water, the orange and grapefruit notes pick up, then some cocoa, banana, Crème Brule. Some warm cereal notes. There is oak influence here, but it never overwhelms.
Finish: Fruity, fruity, fruity! Ripe orchard fruits, tropical fruits, orange and lemony tanginess, some of the honey and a sweet maltiness, then a peppery note shows up at the very end. A nice, rich and full-bodied finish of medium length.
Overall: Big, fresh, vibrant, and bold – this whisky shows its maturity in the beautiful body and the depth and richness of the aromas and flavors. This is a beautiful nosing whisky, one to take your time with to fully enjoy all it offers. There may be some good, youngish NAS whiskies out there, but this whisky just shows that (well-managed) aging creates something superior. Like the marketing always told us, you can’t rush when making the finest whiskies! Okay, so yes, this is a blended whisky, but I tell you, it just doesn’t come across much like one – likely because of its high ratio of single malt component whiskies.
And to further add to the appeal of this whisky, it has a relatively reasonable price tag considering this is a 40 year-old whisky. I paid $250 for this bottle back in 2014. Just for some semblance of value comparison for 40-year-old whiskies, the 40 year-olds from the Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Highland Park run northwards of $4,000 – if you can find them and if their prices haven’t gone up, again – and the Macallan 40 year-old, well just forget it, that one is over $10,000 for a bottle!
Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Distillery: Bunnahabhain, Ben Nevis, Glen Grant, Caperdonich, Highland Park, and Invergordon
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: 40 year old (bottled 2012)
Maturation: 80% ex-Bourbon, 20% Sherry
Price: $250 (2014)
Availability: Very limited
Sample Source: My own bottle