Ben Nevis is a distillery with a highly variable reputation, more low than high. I must be the only person whose batting average with them is 100%. Of course, that’s only because I’ve only ever had two whiskies from this Highland distillery–the Whisky Galore 9 yo from 1996 that I reviewed some months ago, and this double matured 25 yo. This is a release from 1984 and came in a rather solid wooden box. Ben Nevis released more than one 25 yo from 1984 and so unless you have/see the same one there may be significant variation between them.
Interpreting the label is no easy task. It says both that it is a single cask (and the cask number is given as 98/35/12) and that it was “Vatted in Sherry Casks in October 1998”. And investigation on Whiskybase reveals three more 25 yo’s from 1984 and their cask numbers are 98/35/5, 98/35/1 and 98/35/13. As vatting implies more than one cask this would suggest that a number of ex-bourbon casks of whisky distilled in 1984 were vatted into (at least) four sherry casks and “Single Cask” therefore refers only to the single sherry casks in which each vatting finished the second period of its double maturation–in this case for an additional twelve years from October 1998 to December 2010 when this release was bottled.
I may be wrong about all this but I do know for sure that this was a huge hit at our local group’s most recent tasting.
Ben Nevis 25, 1984 (54%; casks 98/35/12 double matured in a sherry cask; from my own bottle #148 of 526)
Nose: Honey, caramel, milk chocolate and roasted malt. With a few minutes of airing it gets quite citrussy and there’s some nice toasted wood too. After a while the citrus shades into melon and there’s just a lick of smoke. After even more time all the aromas are very well integrated. With a few drops of water the roasted malt comes to the fore at first and then a note of more tropical fruit emerges.
Palate: Satiny mouthfeel and lovely honeyed fruit–more peach and apricot now along with some orange liqueur and raisins. The long second maturation in sherry is rather obvious on the palate. The fruit leads to chicory and roasted malt. The sherry separates a little at the end. So drinkable at full-strength that you might not believe it’s at 54%. With water the sherry really begins to talk–it’s spicier and drier now and there’s some cinnamon as well.
Finish: Medium. Mostly a mix of over-ripe stone fruit and citrus. Water extends the finish and expands the fruit.
Comments: I liked it a little less tonight than I did at the tasting a couple of weeks ago but this is really quite good. It’s wonderfully balanced and integrated and very directly pleasurable. There’s not, however, very much complexity here, which perhaps you might want in an older malt. And the finish is not terribly interesting. That said you don’t always want a fine whisky to grab your attention and this would be a great one to sip while reading.
Rating: 88 points.