Ben Nevis 20, 1997, King of the Hills (Old Particular)

We’ll stay in the western part of Scotland for the last of this week’s highlands reviews (which began at Ardmore on Monday and continued at Oban on Wednesday).

Ben Nevis is located less than 50 miles drive from Oban but the profiles of the distilleries’ malts are much further away from each other. Where Oban produces a relatively austere spirit, Ben Nevis puts out what can fairly be called a consistently funky one. Independent releases in recent years have done a lot to improve the distillery’s reputation and the official 10 yo was excellent too when I last checked in on it (I’m not sure of its current status). It’s no secret to those who read the blog regularly that I really enjoy Ben Nevis—exactly one year ago I placed it in the list of my five favourite distilleries. Their whiskies are not always great but they’re always interesting. Let’s see if this one manages to be both. It was bottled a couple of years ago by the Laings’ Old Particular label as part of a series of “cards”—I think there were cards for various regions. Ben Nevis, appropriately, was named “King of the Hills”.

Ben Nevis 20, 1997, King of the Hills (50%; Old Particular; refill butt; from my own bottle)

Nose: Bright with acid (lime), mineral and yeasty notes. In other words, very Ben Nevis. Gets breadier as it sits and there are whiffs of gasoline. There’s no real sign of the sherry though—must have been a nth refill cask. With more time the yeast recedes a bit and the bread turns to roasted malt. Tropical fruit emerges here too with time (tart-sweet mango, makrut lime peel, pineapple) along with whiffs of smoke. A few drops of water and the roasted malt expands followed by a big blast of citronella and then sweeter fruit (cherry?).

Palate: Sweeter arrival here but then the acid and the yeast pop out as I swallow. Nice texture and a good drinking strength with a good bite to it. Fruiter earlier with each sip but with that gasoline and mineral edge that is such a Ben Nevis hallmark. Nuttier too now (salted almonds). Fruitier and sweeter with water the mineral and other funky notes in retreat.

Finish: Long. Hints of tropical fruit early on the finish but they don’t quite expand to suggestions. As on the palate with water—a big surge of fruit that turns muskier here.

Comments: This is such an idiosyncratic distillate; I am never surprised when people don’t care for it very much; it’s not something I want to drink every night either. But if this kind of thing is to your taste then there are very few places to find it. As noted above, the sherry cask is barely apparent here—probably more in terms of notes it modulated than in notes it added.

Rating: 88 points.




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