After two weeks in a row of bourbon cask whiskies (from Bladnoch, Linkwood, Dailuaine, Ardmore, Glen Garioch and Teaninich), let’s finish the month, and the year, with a week of sherry-matured whiskies. Instead of going up in age over the course of the week—as I usually do—let’s do them in order of increasing sherry influence. First up, accordingly is a single cask Ben Nevis 18, 1991 that was bottled by Mackillop’s Choice back in 2010. I purchased this bottle not too long after, and as with so many bottles purchased in that time period, I have no idea why I haven’t opened it in all these years—except perhaps that I purchased rather a lot of bottles in that time period. Anyway, it’s open now.
By the way, I was surprised to learn that Mackillop’s Choice is still a going concern—or at least that it was just a few years ago. Whiskybase doesn’t have any listings for 2022 or 2021 releases from the label but there were at least a few releases in 2020. If you’d asked me before I looked it up, I would have guessed they’d long gone the way of Scott’s Selection. Based on Whiskybase listings, the heyday does seem to have ended in the early 2010s, when they were still releasing 20-30 malts in most years.
Ben Nevis 18, 1991 (58.6%; Mackillop’s Choice; sherry cask 3849; from my own bottle)
Nose: That very Ben Nevis mix of acidic, mineral and nutty notes. The acid is between lime and grapefruit, the nut is hazelnut. Not much sign of the sherry on the first couple of sniffs but then it begins to emerge on the back of some roasted malt: the citrus now includes orange peel and there’s an expanding dry note that says fino or manzanilla. The fruit keeps expanding as it sits, with apricot and grilled pineapple joining the fray. A few drops of water emphasize the roasted malt first and then the orange peel comes through strong, accompanied by some apricot.
Palate: Comes in with the roasted malt and nuts leading the way; the fruit begins to crest as I swallow. Hot but approachable at full strength; rich texture. The fruit emerges faster with each sip and it’s a lovely mix of citrus, tart-sweet apple and richer tropical fruit. More oak and roasted malt too with time. Okay, let’s add water. A few drops actually brighten it up a fair bit, bringing out more of the acid and also more of that salt from the nose.
Finish: Long. The fruit keeps expanding and then sweeter notes emerge (brown sugar, pastry crust). The roasted malt comes back at the end. As on the palate with water.
Comments: Very Ben Nevis and also very good. The idiosyncratic character of the malt is not swallowed up by the sherry, which mostly brings dry and nutty notes that enhance those qualities of the Ben Nevis distillate. And the fruit is just lovely. I have about half of the bottle left. I look forward to seeing how it develops.
Rating: 90 points.