Let’s start the month with a trio of Ben Nevis. After that we’ll be ready for anything. All three that I’ll be reviewing this week are 20 years old and distilled in 1997. I’m curious to see how much variation there will be across the set. First up, a cask from Berry Bros. & Rudd, a name that is generally a reliable marker of baseline quality. True to form, they do not specify the cask type but, as you’ll see, I have a guess.
Ben Nevis 20, 1997 (54.6%; Berry Bros. & Rudd; cask 85; from a bottle split)
Nose: That very Ben Nevis mix of ginger, salted nuts, white pepper and malt off the top. On the second sniff there’s a faint whiff of diesel as well plus bright citrus. Continues in this general vein. With water there’s the diesel turns to paraffin and the ginger and citrus turn to citronella.
Palate: Comes in tart with lemon peel and a bit of chalk but begins to turn sweeter as I swallow. Rich texture and only just a bit too hot at full strength. On the second sip the citrus is a bit sweeter (orange now) and there’s a fair bit of roasted malt. As it sits it begins to turn sour again and picks up a mineral note—somewhere between a fizzy orange drink out of a glass bottle and orange-flavoured aspirin dissolved in water. With time there’s better balance between the tart and sweet and mineral notes. Let’s see what water does for it. Ah yes, it’s much more approachable with a few drops of water; the sweeter citrus emerges more fully here along with the roasted malt.
Finish: Long. That glassy note turns metallic here and the fruit doesn’t really expand very much. A slightly cloying sweetness develops at the end. The glassy/metallic thing dissipates a bit with time. With water the glassy/metallic thing is completely gone as is the cloying sweetness. The orange and ginger merge nicely and expand and more of the malt now carries through into the finish.
Comments: Neat, this was fine but with a few things throwing off the balance. Water fixes all of that and lifts it up a few points. I’d guess this was a second-fill sherry cask.
Rating: 87 points.