...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Black & White Scotch Whisky print ads, a brief commentary

Every bio about James Buchanan says he was an animal lover. But the following sentence, in every bio, states that he raised racehorses from which he gained considerable financial return. Does that not sound like a man who rather loved money and exploited animals for profit? I don't know, but he did put horses in some of his advertisements. I mean, not wild or free horses, but draught animals:

circa 1903

He did like dogs — as far as I know he did not raise them to race or fight — and per the brand's myth, he got the idea of using wee terriers as part of Buchanan's advertising after attending a dog show in 1920. Though this ad, my favorite, is from 1914:

Though it would be a few additional decades before they graced bottle labels, the black and white terriers, Blackie and Whitey, were the focus of Black & White's print campaigns by World War II. Here are two ads, ca. 1942, that help promote the war effort. Note the terriers' shaded ad space features larger than the bottle itself.

The company went with the "The Scotch with Character" slogan for at least two decades as well. And by the 1950s, the advertising campaigns committed to fully establishing the terriers' adorable, playful characters. I mean, look at these little faces:

And now they're playing American football!

And baseball!

And celebrating Christmas, of course!

Here, in a 1957 ad, they are at the beach:

Now, note that the dogs are portrayed as lifeguards. They're positively dependable, like the whisky. Keep that in mind when you look at this beach-themed ad from 1974:

So, comedy(?), I guess?

Either the dog is turned on by human women, specifically human women who have undergone the sexual humiliation of a suit top slipping in public. Or that humiliation is seen as funny? Or women are being lowered to the level of dogs. Or all the above? And why? And how does that sell whisky?

Not all of their '70s ads were this baffling, but with the whisky industry's historical and current abysmal treatment of women, I thought I'd just dump this one onto the fire.

Let us now cleanse our palate with an image of happy doggos.

We can ignore the awkward cutting and pasting within the image. And the weird background. And that either the dogs or the bottles are in the wrong order. Let us instead focus on the simplicity of the idea. Two dogs, two whisky expressions.

The Extra Light version didn't last long, even in dog years. But Blackie & Whitey live on.

A cheesy hashtag as well as awards won by everything in a bottle, yes. But at least Whitey isn't chasing someone else's tail.

Image sources:
--MacLean, Charles. Scotch Whisky, A Liquid History. London, UK: Cassell Illustrated, 2005.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 27: Black & White blended whisky, bottled 1980-1983

Here it is! The first of three Black & White video reviews. It's a few minutes shorter than other K.W.H. episodes since I already covered Black & White history here. Enjoy the reverb!

This is a 750mL bottle filled sometime between 1980 and 1983. The liquid within weighs in at 43.4%abv. Per the reviewer, "This is a crisp, clean, well-made blend." And if you need a rating to go with that, here it is:

Rating - 82

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled late 1980s

Neither of these mini bottles show even a hint of a tax stamp, yet their alcohol volume is still measured in proof. That would put their bottling after 1985, but before 1990.

One important observation. Whitey looks a lot happier on these '80s bottles:

Than he does on the 2018 bottle:

Is that loyal pup trying to tell us something?

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: United Distillers
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: sometime between 1985 and 1989
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 50mL bottles)

Oh, the nose is fruity! Peaches, apricots, roses, grapefruit and sour apple candies. There are also moments of toasted grains and yeast. The fruit trends more towards a flower blossom note with time. The palate is much simpler than the nose. It's mostly tart citrus, jalapeño oil and toasted nuts with hints of wheat and barley. Straightforward, spirit-forward. Not much going on in the finish. Soft pepperiness and herbal bitterness. A slight BBQ smoke note.

The nose's fruits and flowers are gone, replaced by caramel, maple syrup and young malt whisky. The inoffensive palate is mildly sweet and very reminiscent of Glenfiddich 12yo.

As with all the other Black & Whites I'm reviewing this month, I tried this whisky alongside the 2018 version. This one is certainly a step up from the current B&W, but not much more than that. Yet, once again, I find no connecting threads between the two eras. They feel like very different whiskies produced from different recipes. Perhaps the ingredients are similar, but older, and with greater emphasis on malt whisky. While the nose is quite pretty, the palate is......agreeable. Nothing off. Nothing on. It wouldn't surprise me if this late '80s mix is similar to the version of Black & White I first tried nearly two decades ago.

Rating - 76

Monday, September 9, 2019

Black & White 12 year old Premium blended whisky, bottled 1990s

With just a few exceptions, Black & White has been just Black & White, a single expression brand. There was an Extra Light version for a brief time around the '50s-'60s. That was preceded by a 12 year old De Luxe version in the '30s-'40s. But it was just Black & White NAS for decades after that until another 12 year old appeared at the end of the twentieth century.

The exact start and end dates of the more recent 12 year old have been difficult to sort out. I've seen Italian import bottles with post-1991 tax stamps, and (from what I've been able to gather) it hasn't been produced during this decade or possibly the previous. So I'm going with the broad "bottled 1990s" designation.

Sometimes this 12yo came in a creepy decanter which required the drinker to pull Whitey's head off to access the booze within. But most of the time it was sold in a bottle-shaped bottle.

Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: United Distillers
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottled in: 1990s (probably)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(from my purchased 50mL bottle)

It has a rich, fudgy, toffee-filled nose. Dried cherries, leather, moss, ocean water. Hints of dunnage and dried apricot. Lots of black raisins and carob in the palate. Molasses, salt and a hint of tannin rest beneath. After 20 minutes, notes of golden raisins and honey emerge, sweetening things up. Raisins, salt, lemons and honey in the finish.

This whisky bears no resemblance to the current NAS Black & White. If whisky could be humiliated, then contemporary Black & White would pour itself into the soil and disappear in shame. The '90s 12yo Black & White is loaded with sherry cask-influenced malt whisky. In fact, it seems like a cousin to 10-12 year old Glenfarclas, except it reads even older.

Of my reviews this month, this is the last Black & White to be bottled at 40%abv. Everything else is going to be 43.4%abv (or 76 UK proof) going forward. And it's that low abv that holds the 12yo back from soaring. That extra dilution thins out the palate and shortens the finish. At 43.4%abv it may be a 87-90 point whisky.

As it is it's still a heck of a lot better than any current 12-year-old blend from a major producer. If or when a future whisky glut hits, I hope this whisky, or at least this style, returns.

Rating - 83

Friday, September 6, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled 2018

I always keep one open bottle of a current blended whisky in my cabinet to...

Okay, I can't keep that lie going even one sentence. The quality of mid-shelf blends right now is so awful, and life is so short, that I don't waste money or anything else on blended scotch. There were quite a number of blends to recommend as recently as six years ago, but even those are approaching undrinkable.

But it's Black & White Month here, and I'd like to establish a point of reference before we drift back to the past, so it's best to start with the current iteration of this big bright shining star. Black & White and I go back 17 years, so I hold no illusions that it is heaven's nectar in a green bottle. But it used to be very reliable on the rocks or as a highball.

Let's get these reviews started off with today's Black & White.

Brand: Black & White
Owner: Diageo
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years (and probably not much older)
Bottling code: L8275CP007
Bottling year: 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Colorant added? Yes
(top third of my bottle)

On the rocks:
The unmistakable bitter sharp woof of bottom-shelf plastic-bottle whisky, which should be (literally and figuratively) beneath this brand. Once the ice melts the resulting water tames the bite, making the whisky much more drinkable.

As a highball:
Painless, though also tasteless. A blank canvas for whatever bitters one chooses to add.

The nose is the best part. There's a sugar, mint and copper combination that reminds me of Midleton's Irish blends for some reason. There's also raspberry candy, vanilla and a slight floral note. Most of the palate is vanilla-ed grain whisky with black pepper. It's sour and ethyl-loaded like cheap Canadian and American blended whiskies. The finish is Black pepper & White dog.

You may look at the rating below and say, "Damn, that's cold." But really, it's a higher score than I'd give Johnnie Walker Red, Dewar's White and Cutty Sark; and just about where I'd put Chivas Regal 12yo, Ballantine's and J&B. But that says more about the state of blended whisky right now than it does about Black & White.

This is the roughest, grittiest, yet blandest Black & White bottling I've yet tasted. The palate reads like it's about as young as a Scotch whisky can legally be, with something close to 20% malt / 80% grain in the mix. The nose also seems barely legal, but it's helped by some of the pretty aspects of new make.

Here's to hoping I'm starting at the bottom.

Availability - All over Europe (minus the UK), but getting scarce in the USA. More recently it's been widely available in Brazil, Mexico, India, South Africa and Colombia
Pricing - $8-$12 in "emerging markets", $15-$25 elsewhere
Rating - 68

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, a history

Born in Ontario and raised in Scotland, James Buchanan began working with Charles Mackinlay & Co in London in 1879, at the age of 30. In 1884, he started his own company, James Buchanan & Co Ltd. Sourcing whiskies from W.P. Lowrie, Buchanan began selling The Buchanan Blend the following year. (Buchanan and W.P. Lowrie later had Glentauchers Distillery built in 1896, and together bought Bankier and Convalmore in the following decade.)

Buchanan's goal with his Blend was a whisky, light in character, that would appeal to the English palate. It was such a success that Buchanan & Co received an exclusive contract with Parliament, the following year, to supply them with Buchanan’s House of Commons Finest Old Highland (also known as, House of Commons).

James Buchanan, Lord Woolvington
The House of Commons whisky, also sold by English grocers, came in a black bottle with a white label, and that's how customers began ordering it: "that Black and White whisky." As he began exporting the whisky around the world, Buchanan renamed it "Black & White" (with the quotation marks) in 1902.

As one of the most influential Scotch whisky producers, Buchanan chose to expand his business further by merging James Buchanan & Co Ltd. with the company of Scotch titan, John Dewar, forming Buchanan-Dewar in 1915. Their company was then consumed by the giant Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1925.

Black & White — the quotes were dropped around 1970 — included Dalwhinne, Clynelish and Glendullan malts for many decades, with Dalwhinnie often being the main ingredient. It's likely that the blend had Glentauchers, Bankier and Convalmore in it at various times as well. Though it usually had no age statement, Black & White was at various times an 8 year old. A 12-year-old version was briefly offered post-Prohibition, then again a half century later. And, as if the light-style whisky wasn't enough, there was an Extra Light version in the mid-20th century.

Said to have been an animal lover, Buchanan often used images of horses in his early adverts. But, as the legend goes, after attending a dog show in 1920, he got the idea of using two terriers, one black, one white for all his advertising campaigns. Early on, they were known as Scottie and Westie, but became better known as Blackie and Whitey.

Black & White has appeared in novels as diverse as Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night, Fleming's Moonraker and Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions. It has also shown up in films such as La Dolce Vita, Dr. No and Father Goose.

In 1964, the year of Father Goose's release, Black & White was one of DCL's best selling brands, trailing only Haig and Johnnie Walker. But as the market changed, and DCL experienced management struggles, Black & White's sales fell 50% over the next five years. Volume declined throughout the 1970s, until the brand was eventually pulled out of England and became an export-only product.

By focusing on emerging markets, Diageo was able to revive Black & White's sales in the latter half of the 2010s, expanding its volume 100% between 2013 and 2017, raising it from the 18th best-selling Scotch brand to the 10th. Two decades into its third century, Black & White has left its original demographic, finding more welcoming new homes in South America, Asia and Africa.

--MacLean, Charles. Scotch Whisky, A Liquid History. London, UK: Cassell Illustrated, 2005. (also, the photo source)

Monday, September 2, 2019

A Black & White September

Welcome to a full month of Black & White blended whisky. There will be reviews, videos, big bottles, little bottles, some history and classic ads. Stay tuned!