...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Whisky Gaze: Two Black & White TV Commercials from the 1970s

I'd like to say that my Black & White stash motivated this month's thematic content, but the true inspiration was the discovery of two old Black & White TV commercials on YouTube. The commercials are from the same time period and carry the same message.

And that message is: Black & White = Hot Chicks.

To wit, Commercial 1.

A summary of the plot: The real life Artie Ziff is down in the dumps, standing at a cardboard bar in Pretend Morocco. Suddenly a blonde woman sees a chance at getting a free drink out of the sad sap. Because she's three feet larger than him she gets a tall drink. The end.

Weighing in at 59 seconds, this ad feels at least thrice that length due to its wretched editing. The editor either fell asleep on the flatbed (see what I did there?), or the commercial was cut by a drunkard's feet. At half its length the ad would have been twice as effective. But even then, the eye lines never match. The continuity is so poor, the final result seems like footage from two ads were smushed together.

Between the garbage direction, unfortunate editing and kick ass soundtrack, I half expected underexposed hairy hardcore sex to follow. Or maybe I've watched too many Joe D'Amato films.

Now, Commercial 2:

A summary of the plot: Black & White being poured over the rocks. A woman in a white bathing suit gets wet. The end.

Wow! This ad works so well, I think I saw breasts floating in the scotch. Someone out there had been studying his or her Kuleshov and Eisenstein. Unlike the other commercial, this thing blasts through like shit through a goose. Unlike the other commercial, this ad never hesitates on its way to completion. The woman and the whisky are put on equal ogling grounds, and then you the viewer get BOTH at the end of the day. Sounds legit. I'll buy a case.

According the comments on these videos, there was at least one more commercial from this campaign, one with a woman in a black bathing suit climbing out of a jacuzzi. So the theme was consistent. Though these ads worked in one way since people remembered them 35-40 years later, were they effective beyond simple voyeurism?

This objectification of women was not unique to these Black & White's advertisements, or the industry as a whole. An advertising campaign like this (or this) demeans, at minimum, 50% of consumers. As referenced in a previous post, Black & White's sales declined rapidly from the late '60s through the '70s, into the '80s. This campaign did not salvage the brand in any way because three more decades passed before Black & White's sales ascended. The need to objectify women overrode the need to expand the customer base, and the brand gained nothing.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 29: World War II era Black & White with a 1960s chaser

Going monochrome and wistful, I review this 1941 bottling of 8 year old Black & White and its 1960s cousin. Thank you for joining me on this month-long Black & White sojourn!


1960s Black & White
Rating - 86

Black & White 8 year old, bottled in 1941
Rating - 88

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled for United Airlines in 1961

Of all the Black & White bottles this month this one proved to be the most fun to research. Searching for the history of United Airlines quickly leads one right to their logos. Here are three links if you'd like to follow along: one, two and three.

After using a plain blue rectangle with white lettering from 1930 to 1939, United switched to the red, white and blue shield for its logo, trying out four versions of this style over twenty-two years. The final one looked like this:

Here the word "Airlines" has been dropped from the logo for the first time, and this change happened right around the time of their purchase of Capital Airlines. This look was very short-lived, lasting from 1960 to 1961. The shield was then switched to a diagonal spike (or wing?) until 1974 when it was replaced by the Saul Bass-designed U or tulip.

Since the logo on my 1/10 pint-er was used in only 1960 and 1961, I'm going to play things sooooper conservative and say that this bottle is from 1961.

In truth, I tried these last three Black & Whites side-by-side on one swingin' afternoon.

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: Distillers Company Limited
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: 1961
Exclusive to: United Airlines
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 1/10 pint bottle)

The nose hints at the previous Black & White, but the fruit notes has moved from overripe to fermented and tropical. Then there are rose blossoms, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks and a bright grassy cucumber skin note. A wee hint of machine shop. After 30+ minutes some fresh peach and nectarine notes show up. A swirl of small notes bouncing off each other fills the palate: orange, cardamom, nutmeg, chili oil, white nectarine and cucumber. The sweetness never gets out of control and citrus expands with time. There's a good length to the finish, which is highlighted by citrus, baking spices, ginger and toasted almonds.

Could United passengers even taste this stuff while locked in a cigarette smoke-choked cylinder in the sky? Because this stuff is very good. The blenders were successful in creating a lighter style than that of the Johnnie Walkers, Dimples and Teachers of the time, but the whisky isn't watery or boring. I could see this style appealing to a very wide market. It's bright and fruity while also showing off some depth, especially in the nose. Now, a quart of this wouldn't be a bad thing, if enjoyed responsibly. Let's see if I can top this on Friday.

Rating - 86

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled 1962-1964

This is the Black & White label style familiar to dusty whisky collectors and well-seasoned scotch drinkers. Used throughout the 1950s, this style's final year may have been 1966(see 1966 ad versus a 1967 ad). As per this month's introductory video, I have a number of these wee bottles.

Figuring out this particular bottle's fill date is partly based on its state tax stamp.

This very cool site says that the 2OZ font was larger than the rest of the stamp print in 1962, though there's no word on if that remained true from 1963 through 1977. I've seen quite a few Wisconsin state stamps with the big 2OZ font, but I'm not sure what year they were from.

I can tell you that there's a faint "64" on the bottom of the bottle — though I cannot seem to take a clear photo of it — so that gives me a potential timeframe to focus on: 1962-1964.

This one went head-to-head with yesterday's 1967-1969 bottling.

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: Distillers Company Limited
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: sometime between 1962 and 1964
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 1/10 pint bottle)

At first the nose is very similar to the late '60s version, with its baked pears, Mr. Sketch markers and Mentos candies. But it opens up more and more over time. First come the peaches and anise. Then a slight phenolic note, cut grass and a machine shop. Finally, an overripe fruit note arrives (think melons and stone fruits) and completely takes over. Lots of those overripe fruits show up on the palate. There's also a quirky spicy buzz to it. The combination of those two factors give it a funky rum edge. There's minimal sweetness and no tannins. Notes of mulled wine, red pepper flakes, dried oregano and toasted grains show up after 30 minutes. The finish is devoid of the overripe, funky notes. There are oranges, peppercorns, dried herbs and caramel sauce. Again, no tannins, not much sweetness.

There was a significant difference between this whisky and yesterday's Black & White even though they were bottled 3 to 7 years apart. This one was covered in thick crazy funk. That one was tannic and sugary. That one was simple, this one was anything but. This B&W calms down at the finish, but before that it's all perky weirdness. No one produces whisky like this now, and I'm not sure if anyone could. It seems closer to rum at times. I'm not sure I could make through a fifth of this stuff, but 1/10 pint is the perfect amount. It was spirited fun. Now onto something else...

Rating - 84

Monday, September 23, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled 1967-1969

The label style of the Black & White being reviewed today didn't last very long, not more than eight years. The key to further narrowing the timeframe are the quotation marks:

Here's a 1966 print ad that shows the previous label style. In this 1967 ad, the label style has changed to the one on today's mini and has the quotation marks. In this 1972 ad, the quotes are gone. The mark removal happened around 1970, per the master administrator at Drinks Planet.

Thought it seems like a tiny change, those quotation marks had been used for almost 70 years, ever since James Buchanan began quoting the name that pub patrons called his whisky at the turn of the century. It was Buchanan's Blended Scotch Whisky, but drinkers referred to it by the bottle and label colors, black and white. Ditching the quotes fully established the brand as Black & White, and cleared the way for another Buchanan's blend.

Time to drink up.

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: Distillers Company Limited
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: sometime between 1967-1969
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 1/10 pint bottle)

Full of spirit and oak, the nose leads with guava, moss, vanilla bean, caramel and hay. Then baked pear with fruity cinnamon. Light blue scented Mr. Sketch markers and Mentos candies. The mild palate is lightly spicy and tannic. Bits of vanilla, paper and savoriness. It does have a good mouthfeel and it gets tangier with time. The finish has pepper, paper and tart lemons. It gets sweeter and tangier with time, as well.

As with the mid-70s mini I'd opened last week, the nose is better than the palate, though there's a smaller gap in quality. There's more American oak character present than I'd expected, giving it a modern tilt that the whisky probably doesn't need. And I'm not sure if the papery notes are due to flabby casks or five decades of unknown bottle storage. The nose's guava note and creaminess of the palate's texture salvage this from Meh Land. But it's certainly a step down from the stuff in the '70s quart bottle I'm enjoying.

Rating - 79

Friday, September 20, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 28: Black & White blended whisky, bottled 1975-1977 (One Quart)

Presenting the second of three Black & White video reviews! And in a different location, with a better comparison whisky! Exciting!

It's a big old quart of '70s scotch this time, so it's a good thing I like the stuff. Oops, I spoiled my take. I guess I'll have to list a rating for it now as well:

Rating - 84

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Black & White blended whisky, bottled mid-1970s (1/10 pint)

Next stop on the Black & White Time Train: The 1970s!

I have a mini and a not-so-mini from a similar time frame. Today it's the 1/10th pint.

Liquor bottle liquid volume measurements went metric in 1980, so this 'un is from 1979 or earlier:

The IRS is given a shoutout on the federal tax stamp. That practice ended in early 1977.

Because the bottle's front label style began at some point after 1974, as per print advertisements, I can say with moderate comfort that this whisky was bottled in 1975 or 1976.

The metal cap was fastened very very tightly, which was a positive sign...

Brand: Black & White
Owner at time of bottling: Distillers Company Limited
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottled: sometime between 1975 and early 1977
Alcohol by Volume: 43.4%
(from my purchased 1/10 pint bottle)

Another lively, pretty nose! Overripe stone fruits, apple peels, vanilla bean, guava juice and celery juice. With time it shifts towards orange and lemon peels, watermelon juice and a pear pastry. Meanwhile, the palate is bitterer and sharper than expected. Very tart citrus and tart berries. Tartness. Not much sweetness. Needs air. Then there's bread pudding with salty caramel sauce. Just a hint of wet cardboard. The finish keeps that bread pudding & caramel sauce note, while adding in almond brittle. Yet it's somehow not too sweet.

A couple of ice cubes neutralizes it, and it tastes like nothing. Boo.

Firstly, this whisky's sparring partner was the 2018 bottling. I'm not sure how much more often I'll haul out that current version. It's a very different whisky than all the older bottlings. And it's losing what little charm it started with.

Now back to the '70s bottling. The palate is more blend-y than I'd expected, raw at the edges, mix of vivid and flat casks in the center. But the nose is a pure delight. If this fruity, floral style is what blenders meant by "light" in decades past, then I'm sold, at least as far as the sniffer goes. I wish the flavor met it half way. Also the damn thing died on ice, instantly.

On Friday, it's the big bottle...

Rating - 79

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!