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. Continue reading
After a few very untimely reviews let’s do a couple this week that were bottled closer to the present—just last year, in fact (they’re not available any more either but you can’t have everything). First up, this Ben Nevis 19, 1996 bottled by the usually very reliable Cadenhead in their Small Batch series. I bought this at auction in the UK and the bottle did not come with the dangling paper thingy that contains all the cask details on these releases (is there a name for those things?). The label does say “Small Batch” but Whiskybase tells me there were only 222 bottles released. So, was it actually a single cask? Hard to see how you could blend two or more casks and arrive at so few bottles—unless only a part of the vatting was released here. Anyway, I bought it because ex-bourbon Ben Nevis can offer the tropical fruit that I so love in single malt whisky at a younger age than most distilleries, and because the last Cadenhead’s Small Batch ex-bourbon Ben Nevis from 1996 that I bought was just excellent (as was the last ex-sherry Ben Nevis from 1996 that I bought). I am happy to say that my hopes were not dashed on the shoals of reality. Continue reading
My first review in November was of a 19 yo Ben Nevis, bottled by Master of Malt in their That Boutiquey Whisky Company series. I did not care for it very much. It was a little too spirity and not generally very good evidence for my repeated claim that Ben Nevis may well become the next big thing among whisky geeks, as the prices of current top line distilleries, especially for sherry casks, continue to rise towards and past the roof. I noted of that one that it was frustrating because everything I like about Ben Nevis was obviously there in it but covered by chemical/artificial notes of one kind or the other. I am happy to say that this one does not suffer from any of those problems. It was bottled by Whisky Import Nederland and this is my second bottle. I went through the first at a pretty rapid rate—I also took it to one of my whisky group’s tastings a few months ago, and it was a hit with everyone there as well. It’s from a refill sherry cask but not a very shy one. Let’s get to it. Continue reading
That Boutiquey Whisky Company is a line of whiskies released by Master of Malt, the UK whisky store best known for not being the Whisky Exchange but seemingly desperately wanting to be. Take for example, this series, in 500 ml bottles, that launched after TWE’s 500 ml Elements of Islay series. The TBWC malts, however, are not limited to Islay and have labels as colourful (or garish, if you prefer) as those of Elements of Islay are minimalist. It’s a campier look, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is that reviewers I trust rarely seem to have overmuch praise for what’s in TBWC’s bottles. That used to generally also be true of Ben Nevis, though its previously dodgy reputation seems to be on the rise of late. I’m on record as saying that Ben Nevis, especially from sherry casks, may well be the next big thing among whisky geeks. It’s certainly true that well-aged, independent, sherried Ben Nevis can still be found at reasonable prices. I’m not sure if this one was reasonably priced though—these TBWC releases are usually priced pretty high as well. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. At least it’s not NAS as many of their earlier releases were (and, to be fair, as every single Elements of Islay release has been). Continue reading
I’ve reviewed this Ben Nevis before. That was a review of a purchased sample — I ended by saying I might have to purchase a bottle and I did. I opened the bottle pretty quickly after purchase and took it to one of my local group’s tastings (where it did quite well). I’ve been drinking the bottle down at a pretty steady clip since then and figured I’d re-review it to see how much overlap there is between my notes on the two occasions. You’ll have to believe me when I say that I have not re-read the first review before starting on this one.
Ben Nevis 18, 1995 (55.5%; Wilson & Morgan; sherry butt 657; from my own bottle)
Nose: Sharp and a little varnishy at first; some paraffin too. Then the fruit begins to emerge: bright citrus and a more indistinct muskiness below. Gets quite dusty as it sits and a little bit malty as well. With a lot more time the sharper notes recede and the fruit is to the fore (and sweeter now). And with water the sharp notes are all but gone and there’s a biscuity quality to go with the sweet citrus. Continue reading
I’ve noted many times before the phenomenon of distilleries that were unloved when they were open eventually becoming hot tickets some years after their closure. You could certainly add Ben Nevis to the list of unloved distilleries. When I was first getting serious/deranged about single malt whisky Ben Nevis was one of the distilleries of which very few people had anything positive to say. It was seen as an eccentric distillery at best, and even those who didn’t dislike its malt would concede that its product was wildly inconsistent. You might have thought that it too would need to close down to get a better reputation, a la Littlemill. Of late, however, it’s begun to seem that they might not need that drastic step. A lot of indie Ben Nevis has been showing up in the last couple of years, and a lot of it has been fairly well received. And given the high prices that the distillery has begun to charge for its teenaged vintage releases it appears that the worm may well have begun to turn. Indie Ben Nevis, however, remains good value. Continue reading
I’ve had more Ben Nevis in the last year or so than I had in all my years drinking whisky before then. But I don’t think I’ve had very many in this general age range that were from sherry casks and so I’m very interested to try this one. Ben Nevis is a pretty idiosyncratic malt at the best of times and it’s possible that sherry could saw off some of its rougher edges in either a good or bad way. In the case of this excellent 25 yo the sherry had a very nice impact but that was a case of double maturation, not full-term sherry maturation.
I’m also interested to see how this distillery bottling compares to the younger independent releases I’ve had. Ben Nevis’ profile seems to be on the rise of late with more and more vintage based releases, at seemingly higher prices than in the past. Having said that though they’ve just released a 48 yo from 1966 at €600, which is a lot of money but less than some distilleries charge for their 25 year old malts. Anyway, let’s get to it. Continue reading
Battlehill’s releases are exclusive to Total Wine, I think—at any rate, I’ve not seen them anywhere else. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure who Battlehill are—I have a vague recollection that it may simply be one of Duncan Taylor’s lines. If so, I suppose it may have been a replacement for their earlier value line, Whisky Galore. That one featured whiskies that were not at cask strength and I believe that may be true of all of Battlehill’s releases, not just this one; on the other hand, the Whisky Galore bottles listed distillation years and were single casks, neither of which is true of Battlehill. If this is indeed a Duncan Taylor operation I have very limited positive experience with their Ben Nevis selections: I quite liked a younger Ben Nevis bottled by Whisky Galore a decade ago. On the other hand, if they’re not in fact a Duncan Taylor line you’ve just wasted however many seconds it took you to read this. You’re welcome!
As the whisky bubble continues to inflate and prices for malts from established names (and also some not very established ones) rise higher and higher, we are going to see the independents bring more and more single casks from previously second and third tier distilleries to market. This is not a particularly original insight/forecast—a lot of people have made it. Not a lot of people would have said some years ago, however, that Ben Nevis might be poised for an image makeover—the official malt has always been idiosyncratic. I have a theory though that its profile is going to rise. For one thing, the owners seem to be releasing more of it (and asking good money for some of it); for another, I think as more and more sherried Ben Nevis shows up it is going to win whisky geeks over.
I am somewhat unusual, I gather, in having liked every Ben Nevis I’ve tried. It probably helps that I’ve tried very few. The last Cadenhead’s Small Batch I tried (Friday’s Auchentoshan 14) reversed a negative trend; I hope this Ben Nevis 17 won’t reverse a positive one. Let’s get right to it.
Ben Nevis 17, 1996 (55.2%; Cadenhead’s Small Batch; bourbon hogshead; from a bottle split with friends)
Nose: Wood glue and musky fruit (apricots, a bit of stewed apple). Some raisins too and something vaguely savoury. Gets brinier as it sits. With time there’s some peppery melon a la some Littlemills I’ve tried. The fruit gets richer and richer with time and water gives it tropical accents on the nose as well. Continue reading
Ben Nevis is a distillery with a highly variable reputation, more low than high. I must be the only person whose batting average with them is 100%. Of course, that’s only because I’ve only ever had two whiskies from this Highland distillery–the Whisky Galore 9 yo from 1996 that I reviewed some months ago, and this double matured 25 yo. This is a release from 1984 and came in a rather solid wooden box. Ben Nevis released more than one 25 yo from 1984 and so unless you have/see the same one there may be significant variation between them.
Interpreting the label is no easy task. It says both that it is a single cask (and the cask number is given as 98/35/12) and that it was “Vatted in Sherry Casks in October 1998”. And investigation on Whiskybase reveals three more 25 yo’s from 1984 and their cask numbers are 98/35/5, 98/35/1 and 98/35/13. As vatting implies more than one cask this would suggest that a number of ex-bourbon casks of whisky distilled in 1984 were vatted into (at least) four sherry casks and “Single Cask” therefore refers only to the single sherry casks in which each vatting finished the second period of its double maturation–in this case for an additional twelve years from October 1998 to December 2010 when this release was bottled. Continue reading
Ben Nevis, located in the Highlands, is another distillery of no great reputation. On the one hand, in such cases this means you can often find independent bottlings at very good prices; on the other, it means that you take a greater chance with each bottle, as no one is clamouring to review every Ben Nevis or Glen Moray or Linkwood or Dufftown etc. etc. that comes on the market. The bottle I am tasting today is another from Duncan Taylor’s now defunct Whisky Galore line, and was selected by The Party Source in Kentucky. I bought it on a whim and didn’t open it for almost two years because I was convinced it wouldn’t be good and I’d regret the purchase–even though it was quite reasonably priced. I finally opened it and, predictably, loved it; went back for more, only to find it was all gone. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
By the time I opened this bottle, the whisky had sat in it almost as long as it had matured in the cask.