I’ve been going on for some years now about how Ben Nevis’s historically iffy reputation has been poised to turn around and it seems like that time is finally here. Official releases of Ben Nevis fetch top dollar and indie iterations are also seeing rises in price. This is largely because Ben Nevis is one of the most reliable sources of exuberant tropical fruit in single malt whisky—and in their case it’s often mixed with malt and cocoa and a certain wild edge; altogether it makes for a very idiosyncratic combination. I keep an eye out for indie Ben Nevis, especially from bourbon casks and in the late teens age-wise (see, for example, this other 17 yo Ben Nevis from Cadenhead that I absolutely loved). Accordingly, I purchased this one in the UK that was bottled by the German outfit, The Whisky Agency, for an Australian importer named Casa de Vinos. I’m not sure if the entire run was bottled for the Australian market or if some of this cask was released in the EU as well. Anyway, I opened this last month for one of my local group’s tastings, expecting it to be a highlight. To my dismay, it was rather flat. I set it aside to see if some air in the bottle would do it any good, and here now are my notes a few weeks after it was opened.
Ben Nevis 17, 1999 (50.9%; The Whisky Agency for Casa de Vinos; refill hogshead; from my own bottle)
Nose: Malty, bready and medicinal at first—not phenolic at all, more like rubber gaskets on old-style medicine bottles. Below that lurks some fruit: whiffs of lime, grapefruit and a touch of sour pineapple. Gets less bready/malty and more fruity/acidic with time. Maltier and breadier with water again.
Palate: Malty opening here too and then the fruit arrives, acidic and tart. Nice texture. On the second sip the fruit rises above the malt and there’s some sweetness to go with the tart citrus. No sign of the pineapple though; maybe some green mango? With more time there’s a nice balance between the malt and the tart fruit and some white pepper pops up as well. With water the fruit intensifies a little and there’s a flash of pineapple and mango.
Finish: Long. Malty, yeasty, acidic, peppery. Not much change here with water.
Comments: It’s odd how blank this was when the bottle was first opened. Anyway, it’s really come on since then. It’s not one of the explosively fruity Ben Nevises I was hoping it might turn out to be but it’s quite good and very drinkable. I don’t think the bottle is going to last very long. I’ll be interested to see if it gets even fruitier as it goes. I preferred the nose neat and the palate with water: that’s an easier nut to crack than when it’s the other way around.
Rating: 86 points.