Created in 1951, this three-year-old Canadian blend was originally called Black Label, but the story goes that distiller Jack Napier renamed it Black Velvet after tasting how smooth and rich it was. Seven decades later, it’s one of the best-selling Canadian whiskies in the U.S.
Classification: blended Canadian whisky
Company: Heaven Hill
Distillery: Black Velvet
Still Type: copper
Aged: at least 3 years
Awards: Platinum, 2020 SIP Awards
- It’s one of the most affordable whiskies on the market: It’s possible to find a bottle for less than $10. At that price, mere drinkability is all that’s required, and Black Velvet delivers.
- At such a low price point, Black Velvet encourages experimentation. Got a new recipe you want to check out but you don’t want to risk wasting the good stuff? Use Black Velvet for your trial run.
- While it’s a competent whisky, it’s certainly not great, and even upgrading to the $20 range will get you blended Canadian whiskies of higher quality.
Color: Medium gold. Could this color have been achieved from three years in ex-bourbon barrels? Perhaps, but it’s also possible that some artificial coloring was added.
Nose: Slightly burnt toast on first whiff. As it opens up a little bit, notes of vanilla and burnt sugar, reminiscent of creme brûlée, creep in as well.
Palate: As it hits the tongue, it’s very sweet, with heavy and borderline-overbearing notes of caramel predominating. Hold it on the palate, and the caramel is supplanted with slightly harsh charcoal notes, along with a spicy tingle from the rye.
Finish: Long and spicy, heavy on the rye, along with the burnt toast that was present on the nose, After a minute or so it evolves into a light sweetness.
The main reason for Black Velvet’s popularity is without a doubt its price. With bottles to be had in the $10 range, what it tastes like is almost besides the point. All that’s really required of Black Velvet is that it be drinkable.
And drinkable it most certainly is. It’s not some kind of gem hidden in plain sight, but it’s not the unmitigated rotgut that could reasonably be expected from booze this cheap, especially aged booze. Its flavor alternates between overly sweet and overly harsh, but it’s never less than tolerable, even as a sipper. As a mixer, it’s somewhat better than that, especially in cocktails that let the other ingredients do the heavy lifting, like a Whiskey Sour.
Is it worth spending a few dollars more for an upgraded Canadian blend like Canadian Club, J.P. Wiser’s, or even Black Velvet’s own Reserve expression? If you’re planning to sip it, well, yes. But if price is the primary concern, then Black Velvet serves its purpose and does it tolerably well.
Unlike most blends, the whiskies that make up Black Velvet—a 90% rye and a corn-based spirit—are blended before they’re ever put into the barrel. They’re then married together in ex-bourbon casks for three years before bottling.
The bottom line: Black Velvet is a bottom-shelf whisky, and it’s doubtful that it could be confused with something more high-end. But for $10, you get your money’s worth and then some. Let’s call it passable-plus.