I’ve had more Ben Nevis in the last year or so than I had in all my years drinking whisky before then. But I don’t think I’ve had very many in this general age range that were from sherry casks and so I’m very interested to try this one. Ben Nevis is a pretty idiosyncratic malt at the best of times and it’s possible that sherry could saw off some of its rougher edges in either a good or bad way. In the case of this excellent 25 yo the sherry had a very nice impact but that was a case of double maturation, not full-term sherry maturation.
I’m also interested to see how this distillery bottling compares to the younger independent releases I’ve had. Ben Nevis’ profile seems to be on the rise of late with more and more vintage based releases, at seemingly higher prices than in the past. Having said that though they’ve just released a 48 yo from 1966 at €600, which is a lot of money but less than some distilleries charge for their 25 year old malts. Anyway, let’s get to it.
Ben Nevis 1996-2012 (57.5%; sherry cask #1653; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Somewhat closed at first, with a bit of light caramel and just a hint of prickly smoke; after a bit of airing there’s quite a bit of citrus—somewhere between orange and lemon peel, getting brighter and more acidic as it goes. With a bit more time, lime zest and then some sweeter notes (honey?) and some white pepper. The sweet notes turn take a turn towards biscuity malt. There’s development but it’s all a little tight. With a lot more time there’s a chalky note that shows up as well. Water removes the chalk and blunts the acid as well: the malt is the top note now.
Palate: Quite sweet at first but then the citrus shows up quickly (lime, lime zest). As on the nose the citrus is accompanied by a pepperiness; unlike on the nose, the lime takes on a slightly fermented aspect as I swallow. Very little sherry influence here. With a little bit more time that peppery/citrussy combination takes on a slightly soapy aspect (as is not unusual with Ben Nevis). Sweeter as it goes, with some floral notes joining the citrus and malt. Okay, let’s add water. With water the soapy note disappears and the sweeter and more acidic notes come into better balance.
Finish: Medium. The citrus expands, getting more fermented/tropical as it goes. The maltiness from the nose finally shows up along with some brown sugar (syrup). With more time it gets oakier faster. Water emphasizes the fruit on the finish, making it sweeter and keeping it going much longer (less oak now).
Comments: I guess I wrote a lot about this one, but that’s mostly because I drank it slowly while watching a basketball game (whose finish wasn’t as good as this whisky’s*). The length of the notes shouldn’t imply great complexity because it isn’t actually particularly complex. It is pleasurable though, even if it verges on the overly sweet from time to time—that does get balanced out by the weird peppery/minerally, almost astringent note characteristic of Ben Nevis. Not much sign, if any, of the sherry cask.
Rating: 87 points.
Thanks to Gimmeadram for the sample!
*The Clippers lost the second game of their playoff series in overtime to the Spurs after flubbing a chance to seal it in regulation.