I’ve noted many times before the phenomenon of distilleries that were unloved when they were open eventually becoming hot tickets some years after their closure. You could certainly add Ben Nevis to the list of unloved distilleries. When I was first getting serious/deranged about single malt whisky Ben Nevis was one of the distilleries of which very few people had anything positive to say. It was seen as an eccentric distillery at best, and even those who didn’t dislike its malt would concede that its product was wildly inconsistent. You might have thought that it too would need to close down to get a better reputation, a la Littlemill. Of late, however, it’s begun to seem that they might not need that drastic step. A lot of indie Ben Nevis has been showing up in the last couple of years, and a lot of it has been fairly well received. And given the high prices that the distillery has begun to charge for its teenaged vintage releases it appears that the worm may well have begun to turn. Indie Ben Nevis, however, remains good value.
Ben Nevis 18, 1995 (55.5%; Wilson & Morgan; sherry butt 657; from a purchased sample)
Nose: Takes a bit to get going but then there’s quite a lot here: roasted malt, oak, musky fruit, orange peel, a slight chalkiness, a bit of shoe polish. After a few minutes there’s some mild smoke too (or maybe it’s charred oak) and the orange gets more pronounced too (juice now); still quite malty too. With a lot more time the citrus is joined first by some overripe melon (honeydew?) and later by some papaya. Water keeps the fruit going and brings out softer notes of buttery vanilla as well.
Palate: Sour orange juice to start with some bitter oak extract mixed in; some cracked black pepper too and a vaguely leafy/herbal quality. And is that a touch of smoke here too? The fruit gets a bit brighter with time (pineapple juice mixed in too now). Pretty intense on the whole. With a lot of time the fruit takes quite a tropical turn (with the pepper mixed in).
Finish: Long. That orange juice/oak combo keeps going and it gets increasingly mentholated.
Comments: Well, Ben Nevis is rarely cookie-cutter malt and this is no exception. Starts out with strong malty and oaky notes and turns quite fruity. This is one that needs time to open up and reveal all its charms. Oddly, it reminded me of this Cadenhead’s 17 yo from 1996—oddly, because I think that was a bourbon cask. I think I may have to get a bottle.
Rating: 87 points.