Whisky Review: The Gladstone Axe The Black Axe

, | June 24, 2022

Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by The Gladstone Axe. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

Many whiskies have a story that anchors them to their region and category. Some whiskies tell the story of their distillery with an old or rich history, while other whiskies’ narratives are more abstract and attached to the distiller or blender’s inspiration for the line. The Gladstone Axe’s The Black Axe falls into the latter category.

The Gladstone Axe is named after William Ewart Gladstone, the four-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. “The Grand Old Man,” as he was sometimes called, signed the spirits act of 1860, which allowed the blending of malt and grain whiskies for the first time. This, understandably, had a huge impact on the whisky industry and helped pave the way for many of the Scotches we know and love today.

The founder of US-based spirits producer and distributor Biggar and Leith, Elwyn Gladstone, wanted to pay homage to his great-great-great-grandfather’s legacy by creating some Scotch blends of his own.

The Gladstone Axe comes in two expressions: American Oak and The Black Axe. Both whiskies are made from 100% malted barley, aged in oak barrels, and created from a blend of 14 different Highland and Islay malt distilleries (though I couldn’t find any information on which ones). The main differences between the two of them is that American Oak — as the name suggests — is aged in American oak ex-bourbon barrels, and The Black Axe has a higher proportion of Islay whiskies, creating a smokier product. 

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The “axes” of The Gladstone Axe and The Black Axe are nods to William Ewart Gladstone’s pastime of felling trees. The brand furthers this image by including a custom bottle that includes a raised image of a man with an axe standing next to a tree.

This detail on the bottle is only one facet of a slick, cohesive, and well-executed brand image. The website contains colorized photos of Gladstone as well as political cartoons from his time, creating a colorful, pop-art feel. The website also features custom cocktails for their whiskies as well as new spins on classic drinks like the mint julep and highball. But does the whisky itself live up to the hype?

The Gladstone Axe The Black Axe review

The Gladstone Axe The Black Axe (image via Larissa Banitt/The Whiskey Wash)

Tasting Notes: The Black Axe

Vital Stats: 43% ABV, no age statement given, 100% malted barley. Bottles are generally in the $30 to $50 range at online retailers.

Appearance: The liquid is clear and a rich, dark amber color.

Nose: The malt show up first on the nose, followed by sweet caramel and vanilla. The smoke is subtle and shows up towards the end.

Palate: Taste is similar to the nose. The vanilla takes a back seat to the caramel, though. With the gentle hint of smoke, the caramel takes on an almost coffee-like quality that reminded me of a caramel latte. Apple, apricot, and spice notes play in the background. The Black Axe has an oily mouth feel, which helps it linger on the tongue for a medium-length earthy, peppery finish.

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3.5

Summary

As someone who enjoys a peaty, smoky Islay, I was a bit underwhelmed by the lack of smoke — especially since that note is heavily featured in marketing material. The flavors themselves are good, but lack the complexity to make it a great sipping whiskey. I appreciate that it is easy drinking, and a good choice to introduce someone to smoke in whisky who hasn’t tried it before. I think where The Gladstone Axe The Black Axe could shine is as a mixer. The smoke could add an element of intrigue in cocktails (such as those featured on their website) that traditionally use a non-peated whiskey like bourbon.

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Larissa Banitt

Larissa Banitt is a writer and nurse born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She's a foodie, whisk(e)y nerd, and animal lover. You'll often find her hiking with her dog, trail-riding with her horse, or crocheting with her cats.