Friday, 10 February 2017



Of International Appeal But Of Indian Concept

In the 19th century, the sun never set over the British Empire, so vast was its spread. Since the only mode of international cross-continental travel was by sea, the Empire invariably faced logistic and infrastructural problems as sea routes were subject to unpredictable weather conditions enroute. While a great many problems could be resolved by local provisioning, the high and mighty faced problems in supplies which could only be brought from back home, e.g., wine, alcohol and tobacco.

Herbert Musgrave Phipson (1850 – 1936), was a British wine merchant and naturalist who lived in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, from 1878 to 1905. He had come to India in 1878 as a partner in the firm of J. A. Forbes & Co., Bombay. In 1883, he established his own company, Phipson & Co. Wine Merchants and employed another Briton from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, Walter Samuel Millard (1864–1952), a well educated young bachelor who would soon become fairly knowledgeable about liquor, which could be traced back to his in-laws to be. Records show that Millard first set foot in India in early 1884. Phipson also served as the editor of the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society for twenty years – as the sole editor for fifteen years till 1901 and then joint editor with Millard, who succeeded him as Honorary Secretary in 1906, when Phipson returned home due to his wife's continued sickness. There is no record in the UK of W.S. Millard being knighted. However, his services to the Society and other causes, as also to the British Armed Forces as a provender of high quality perishables, is indisputable. 

Phipson and Co. expanded quickly and had outlets all over Asia, in present day Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and more, which required a lot of shuttling to and fro. Unfortunately for them, wine and alcohol seemed to be in short supply, mainly because they were sourced from home. 

In 1883, Phipson was in England to place bulk orders for his trade, but couldn't find a Whisky to suit the hot and dusty Indian and other Asian countries. Phipson employed Millard and ordered him to go to Speyside and look up distilleries and then fetch up at Mackinlay's in Leith, Edinburgh and get him to produce and/or provide a good blended whisky that would suit conditions in Asia. By then, MacKinley’s name and fame had started to circulate, to peak with his 15-YO blends that he would supply Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton between 1898 and 1907. He was known in Scotland as the 'Royalty of Whisky'. Three bottles of 15-year bottled-in-1898 Mackinlay's Scotch Whisky were found in 2010 among three crates of Scotch and two of brandy buried beneath a basic hut Shackleton had used during his dramatic failed 1907-09 Nimrod excursion to the Antarctic. Millard met Mackinlay's daughter at Leith, and was betrothed to her as a young 19-year old youth. Phipson was still in England when the Bombay Natural History Society(BNHS) was founded on 15 September 1883. Upon his return to Bombay, he immediately joined BNHS 

In 1875, Charles registered the brand Mackinlays Vatted Old Benvorlich Scotch whisky and opened offices in London, first on Queen Victoria Street then to Crutched Friars. Thus, Mackinlays Vatted Old Benvorlich, probably one of the first blended Scotch whiskies to be marketed, was introduced to London. He then purchased Corbett Borthwicks Warehouse, East Old Dock, Leith, in 1875 and used it as his blending headquarters.

James, son of Charles Mackinlay, established in 1815 (see label), was a second generation whisky blender from the Leith family who produced a large number of brands of different ages, like Mackinlay's 'Fine Old Scotch Whisky' as three to seven year olds were known and 'Rare Old Scotch Whisky', the term for eight year olds. He was also a supplier of raw single malt whiskies to other Scotch brands that were sprouting all over, once the ban on blending whisky was removed in 1860. Millard toured the smallish Speyside region as ordered, taking extensive notes of as many popular brands he could find. He then left for Edinburgh, for Mackinlay's establishment. As stated earlier, he met and fell in love with Mackinlay's daughter there, whom he was to ultimately wed in 1889, the year the finest 12 YO expression of The Black Dog was released.

Today's Black Dog Fishing Fly
Together with James, Millard discovered the blend he was looking for. Its unique taste, delicate aroma and smooth effect on the palate were the aspects that appealed the most and brought an interim end to Millard's quest, since time was of the essence and he needed to get back to India. British export rules did not allow the carrying of unnamed and unregistered bottles/containers of alcohol, so the whisky selected had to be named, registered and put on the ship's cargo manifest as such. The prevailing blanket ban on export of Scotch whisky in wooden containers (read oak barrels) was not in force then and it is not clear whether the Whisky was transported in barrels, a format favoured by most other blenders, allowing the whisky in the oak casks to absorb a maritime air while in transit, or in bottles. Millard named it after himself, probably for want of a better option, while Mackinlay helped him register it. 

Phipson's actual reaction to this fait accompli is not recorded. There is an interesting anecdote as to the origin of this brand's final label. Being a keen 'Angler' and considering his love for his favourite sport, Millard named the Scotch after his favourite fishing fly - The Black Dog - allowed, in all probability as a quid pro quo by Phipson. This unsubstantiated tidbit notwithstanding, there is  a simpler and less fairy-tale like school of thought. It is quite probable that James Mackinlay, already a big name in Scotch Whisky blending, was titling his collection of brands after an array of fishing flies and that Millard selected a regal-sounding existing brand, The Black Dog. Again, this is unsubstantiated as all MacKinlay's blends are examined in detail in a separate post. All said and done, Millard had just signed a contract for it and was, temporarily, the Boss. The bare truth is that Millard was a young and educated nobody other than a representative of Phipson in 1883, destined to rise to fame along with the rise of his mascot, Black Dog.   

This Scotch, Millard's Black Dog, was only eight years old, a 'Rare Scotch', and in all possibility, a blended or vatted malt whisky. Millard wanted MacKinlay to try the various whiskies- both blends and single malts- he had described in his notes. He was the author, by default, of the most important quality required of a blender of Scotch Whisky, viz., to give the spirit time to blend/marry and mature! MacKinlay was to set up the Glen Mhor Distillery at Inverness in the Highlands in 1892, with an extension in Leith, 160 miles away into the mid-Speyside region to facilitate blending.

Millard loaded a shipful of his Black Dog whisky, and set course for India with more to follow. Competition was building up; a number of brands were also moving overseas. While Mackinlay kept up the supply of Millard's Black Dog fine Scotch Whisky, he was also carrying out experiments in his own backyard by adding similarly aged whiskies based on his knowledge and Millard's notes and testing them out. 12 year old Scotch whiskies were now emerging, though the 'Premium Extra Special' whiskies were expensive. Millard returned in 1889 for his much-awaited wedding and, when there, found a delightful new expression that would take centre-stage globally. 

Millard's 12 year old but new Black Dog had to be renamed, since the original, which was to be gradually and unobtrusively withdrawn, was already a global brand. This saw the emergence of the (blended at Mackinlay) Phipson Black Dog, an exquisite 12 YO Blended Scotch, in a totally differently shaped dark brown bottle, which became a bestseller overnight in Scotland, sufficient cause for jacking up the price, first internationally, then locally.   

There is yet another school of thought, which, on reflection and ratiocination, seems most likely. Phipson was in England in early 1883, in pursuit of essentials to set up his wine shop. He had heard of James MacKinlay, aka 'The Royalty of Blenders' and wanted to commission him to produce a rare/fine Scotch Whisky to suit Asia and other tropical British colonies. He employed Walter, a well educated young lad of 19 for this task. Millard was to scour Speyside for good whiskies, meet up with and assist James in conjuring up a magical potion, while he got back to India, knowing that this would be a time consuming task. Millard did as ordered, while also courting James' daughter, who he married in 1889, the year James put together the majestic deluxe 12 YO blend. Millard and James were successful in creating a rare 8 YO blend, which Millard, short of time and ideas, named Millard's Black Dog on James' advice. As stated earlier, Phipson Black Dog was to follow and make history. This theory also supports the fact that Millard first set foot in India in 1884.    

The point of note here is that barrels of Scotch Whisky are allowed to mature in Scotland for as long as required, though mandated for a minimum of three years and one day by law to qualify as a Scotch Whisky. Maturing liquor in India is a radically different proposition. The different tropical climate raises the annual Angel's Share (loss due to evaporation) to 10-12% vs 2-2.5% in Scotland and maturing beyond six years renders that whisky unpalatable. Only bottling of liquor imported from overseas is done in India. 

James then bought Glen Albyn distillery in Inverness with the profit his MacKinlay whiskies and The Black Dog were reeling in, hand over hand. Such was his reputation that the explorer Ernest Shackleton took with him 25 cases of “Rare old Highland malt whisky, blended and bottled by Chas. MacKinlay & Co.” to the Antarctic on his 1909 expedition to the South Pole. As already stated, three bottles of rare 19th century Scotch whisky, MacKinley's 15 YO, left behind by Shackleton in 1909, were discovered 101 years later, buried under the floorboards of his shack.

The Three Bottles

One of the recovered bottles
The packing case

His ne'er do well son then bought Glen Ord distillery in 1896 and sold his whisky as Glen Oran, which failed in the market. James intervened and sold off both Glen Ord and Glen Albyn in 1899 to recoup losses.

 Phipson Black Dog

The leading Scotch whisky of its time.
Note the outline of the logo of the erstwhile fly.
Source: Noel Moitra
A study of the labels reveals that the Black Dog was a 12 YO Scotch Whisky, specially blended and bottles for the sole proprietors, Phipson & Co., Limited, of 750 ML and 43% Alcohol by volume. Metrication was introduced in India in Dec 1956, effective 01 Jan 1958, whereas the UK went metric only on 1965. This bottles is therefore of a 1958 or 1965 vintage. Moreover, Phipson & Co., was established in 1883. This leads to the question-was there ever a Millard's Black Dog Scotch Whisky? Or is this an elaborate USL hoax?  

This means that the USL/Diageo story about Sir Walter Millard and his favourite fishing fly is a myth. This Scotch Whisky was named after Millard for only six years, 1883-89. He was a callow stripling then, certainly not knighted and in no position to be a great angler with a string of fishing flies.

Where did these three bottles come from?

That said, this 12 YO premium whisky had beaten Walker's Very Special Old Highland by a margin of 20 years; Johnnie Walker's 12 YO Black Label hit the market in that new avatar only in 1909, when a decision was made to simplify the names of its rather pompous but anachronous brands. It was well appreciated, but found inferior to Black Dog, even after it undercut the latter's price. The Black Dog was the premium whisky served on board Air India's international flights, and one of the leading brands of Scotch whisky on board passenger ships and Indian Navy warships. Surprisingly, this whisky was not available anywhere west of the Middle East, suggesting transfer of each and every single one of these bottles to India and her neighbours and that Phipson held sway only on and around the Middle East and Indian subcontinent.

Painstakingly conjured up over a period of twelve long years, Black Dog Scotch instantly became the favorite of connoisseurs all over the world after making a dramatic debut as an eight-year old in 1883, and re-emerging as a different Premium 12 YO blend six years later. This was hardly surprising, considering that each Black Dog Scotch was a masterful blend of fine taste and exquisite artistry.

A newspaper cutting supposedly bolstering the Millard story. It is an obvious fraud: In 1883, Walter Samuel Millard was a 19-year old civilian stripling, and certainly not knighted; Sep 17, 1883 was a Tuesday, not Saturday; the word aficionado entered the English dictionary with a different connotation in the mid-19th century; the spelling of honour is wrong. I must thank Callum McKean, of the News Reference Team, The British Library, London, who searched through the British Newspaper Archive, a database of digitised local and regional newspapers which is especially comprehensive for the late nineteenth century. He was unable to locate this article. It appeared to him that this is a modern mock-up image as the typeface, wording and layout of the newspaper pictured were not consistent with any late nineteenth century newspapers of which he was aware. (This could perhaps explain the spelling mistakes, wrong selection of word and why the date and day of publication were mismatched too). The shape of the bottle is wrong, as is the logo. NM.

Today, Phipson's Black Dog has become a collector's item which my coursemates and I possibly drank in our halcyon days-I, for one, certainly did. I kept my eyes and ears open for any mention of this brand, and found them stocked by the hundreds in our Navy's Duty Free stores. Obliging naval coursemates provided me with a steady supply up to 2003, till stocks ran out. 

When the British started to leave India in 1942, Phipson and Co. battled hard to stay on, well beyond 1947 when India gained Independence. Sir Walter Millard died in England in 1952. Carew and Co., a smaller liquor dealer, and Phipson & Co. were partly taken over in 1963-64 and merged with itself by McDowell & Co, owned by United Breweries Group (UB), an Indian alcoholic beverages company. in 2002, the company acquired Phipson Distillery marking the demise of Phipson Black Dog. In 2006, McDowell & Co Ltd, Herbertsons Limited, Triumph Distillers and Vintners Private Limited, Baramati Grape Industries India Limited, Shaw Wallace Distilleries Limited and four other companies were merged to form United Spirits Limited, the world's second-largest spirits company by volume. It is now a subsidiary of Diageo, and headquartered in Bangalore. USL exports its products to over 37 countries.   

USL also owned Whyte and Mackay and as Phipson Black Dog died with the taking over of the company, it turned to Richard Paterson, Master Blender at W&M to recreate The Black Dog. This acquisition of Scottish major Whyte & Mackay, with one of the largest inventories of aged malts and grain whisky reserves saw USL bolstering Black Dog with better aged variants to prop up premium appeal. USL started premiumising Black Dog. Rather than just placing the product on retail shelves, the company took an account management approach and created a huge buzz around the brand.  

Four versions of the five current generation Black Dog Scotch Whisky exist today, with one premium version sold out.

Black Dog Black Reserve Scotch Whisky

Black Dog Black Reserve is a rich and rare premium blended Scotch whisky loaded with exceptional characters. It is blended to perfection with a multitude of malt spirits chosen from the various regions of Scotland.
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Black Dog Black Reserve Scotch Whisky

Black Dog Black Reserve is a rich and rare blended Scotch whisky loaded with exceptional character. It is blended well with a multitude of malt and grain spirits chosen from various regions of Scotland. On completing 8 years in barrels, it is exported to India for bottling and sale. A few barrels are bottled for the local market as well. The whisky had a distinctive briny note, picked up in transit from Scotland to India. In 2008, a new law was passed by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) banning
export of Scotch whisky in wooden casks. The original proposal of mandating export of Scotch whisky only in properly labelled bottles was opposed in strength and defeated by distillers.   

Black Dog Gold Reserve Scotch Whisky

Black Dog Gold Reserve Aged 12 Years is a blend of 25 fine malt and grain whiskies from four regions of Scotland - Speyside, Islay, Highlands and Lowlands, each matured for a minimum period of 12 years creating a bouquet that captures all the flavours of Scotland, giving the blend its very distinctive flavour and taste. Over 95% of its output is bottled in India, the balance going into travel packs in Duty Free shops and other markets. There is a distinct difference between the two, possibly caused by the effect of maritime air on the barrels as they travel to hot and dusty India, where the angel is far more demanding-up to a 12% cut. Sadly, this version is but a pale shadow of the Black Dog 12 YO of yesteryear. Whyte & Mackay use a different source of water, have different stills and can NEVER replicate Mackinlay's whiskies. That said, Johnny Walker Black Label started to use unpeated Caol Ila 12 YO and Talisker, changing the flavour profile markedly and elevating this brand to No.1 in the Blended Scotch 12 YO range, from which it was displaced in India by the Famous Grouse 12 YO, which was discontinued for a few years but is freely available now. Teacher's 50, Ballantine's 12 YO, Dewar's 12 YO and Buchanan's 12 YO are currently vying for top honours in this category. Incidentally, The Famous Grouse Malt Whisky is also a great 12 YO Blended Malt whisky.

The discontinued Famous Grouse 12 YO Blended Scotch

The Famous Grouse 12 YO Blended Malt
The latest offering from the brand is Black Dog Triple Gold Reserve. In the triple maturation process, Grain and 32 odd Malt whiskies are matured separately in American Bourbon Casks and  then blended together and matured again in Oloroso Sherry Butts for an extra long period of time to give the blend a distinctive flavour and a delicate finish. This gives this scotch a very fine finish, and is a tangible improvement of the 12 YO Black Dog Gold Reserve. Its effect on the market is yet to be assessed as the owners are waiting for the Black Dog Gold Reserve to run its course, what with Whyte and Mackay and its massive inventory being sold yet again, this time to Philippines-based Emperador Inc.    
Black Dog Reserve Scotch Whisky
Black Dog 18 years old Scotch Whisky is known as Black Dog Reserve Scotch. It is matured for a minimum of 18 years in oak casks. Master blenders carefully put together a fine blend of Aged Malt and Grain Whiskies to make this an exceptional Scotch whisky. Black Dog Reserve Scotch has won Gold award at the MUNDUS Vini International Spirit Awards held at Germany in 2011. This is the third Gold award won by this 18 year old Whisky, making it one of the top five of the world’s best tasting 18 year old blended Scotch whiskies. I can vouch for it, as it melts into your tongue like honey. It is as good as The Glen Ord Singleton 18 YO, which forms the body of JW Blue Label, an NAS blend.

Black Dog Quintessence Scotch Whisky

The Black Dog Quintessence is a 21 year old blend. It is pure liquid gold as it is handcrafted to meticulous perfection by Black Dog’s master blenders. Only 25 of the finest single malts and grain whiskies have been drawn from the Highland region of Scotland, in particular from Speyside to provide that special key – “finesse”. Like a loving partnership each individual part has made its own inimitable contribution. Balance and harmony prevails throughout this noble elegant spirit. After a long 20 year maturation in Bourbon barrels, the final year is spent in the finest Oloroso sherry butts. These aren't just any sherry butts; they are specially selected from Spain’s noblest Bodegas of Gonzalez Byass in Jerez de la Frontera; these Matusalem butts provide the perfect platform to marry and mould Black Dog 21 years old Blended Scotch Whisky.  This whisky has been sold out, more's the pity. I did manage to taste it at The Patio in 2013 and can still recall that dram.

The Black Dog Gold Reserve 12 YO is available at most duty free shops at close to US$ 37.00 per 750 CL. These are all Bottled In Scotland whiskies but are rapidly fading out. They are far too expensive. In the free market in India, The Black Dog Gold Reserve 12 YO Bottled In India is freely available at US$ 28 and below. The rush for this brand at this price by people who don't care where it was bottled is unbelievable. The 12 YO is the brand that is selling  the fastest globally when seen YoY, averaging 45-50%!   

Black Dog's scorching growth contrasts with overall blended scotch sales coming under pressure globally, and within India, for different reasons. The only other blended scotch brands to report five year double-digit growth are Black & White (19.8%), Old Parr (14.8%), Passport (13.7%) and VAT 69 (10%) among a list of the world's 50 top scotch brands compiled by International Wine & Spirit Research.

How Scotch Whisky is faring globally

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