The last indie Ben Nevis I reviewed was excellent—this Archives 27 yo. It featured everything that has made Ben Nevis an unlikely hero in recent years: loads of fruit, malt and nut, and those other savoury, slightly funky notes that make Ben Nevis so unique. Of course, you don’t have to go to older Ben Nevis for these pleasures. The recent official 10 yo is also excellent (though I am not sure what its current status is). This cask from Berry Bros. & Rudd more or less splits the age difference between those two; will it be in line with those two? Or will it be closer to the 19 yo from Montgomerie’s that I reviewed in between those two and which was distilled in the same year? Let’s see.
Ben Nevis 20, 1997 (54.6%; Berry Bros. & Rudd; cask 85; from a bottle split)
Nose: Malty and juicy (orange juice) with a bitter edge that’s partly oak and partly plastic. As it sits the citrus expands and the bitter note moves more in the direction of bitter orange and zest. Water pushes the bitter notes back and pulls out brighter citrus.
Palate: The citrus is brighter here—lemon rather than orange—and the malt is darker, edging into cocoa. The bitterness emerges as I swallow. Nice texture at full strength. Gets breadier as it sits and the bitter orange mixes with it nicely. Let’s see what water does. Less bitter here too with water and the citrus gets a little sweeter and the texture a little oilier.
Finish: Long. The bitter notes are the main story here: oak extract, bitter lemon zest and quinine (tonic water). The bready note hangs out longer with time. As on the palate with water: sweet orange is now the main note.
Comments: I was hoping there’d be some tropical fruit in this but no. I think this probably stayed two or three years longer in the cask than it should have: it’s pulled a bit too much bitterness out of the oak and there’s not enough compensatory fruit. I liked it much better with water (wish I’d added it earlier). Still, it’s better than the Montgomerie’s for sure.
Rating: 86 points.