Let’s close the month with a Scotch whisky that is neither a single malt nor a blend. Yes, it’s in everybody’s favourite confusingly named category: blended malt whisky! Once known more clearly as “vatted whisky”, this category comprises vattings of malt (but no grain) whiskies from more than one distillery. There’s not very many of these out there from big name producers—William Grant & Sons’ Monkey Shoulder comes to mind, as does Diageo’s Green Label. Otherwise, this category is mostly the province of people like the bespoke suit-clad gents at Compass Box. This Glencoe 8 is a product of the owners of Ben Nevis and it’s barely a blended/vatted malt. The story seems to be that it is made up of malt from Ben Nevis and one other distillery (which one? I don’t know). The even more unusual things about are its age statement, proof and price. Normally you’d expect a distillery to dilute something like this down well below 50%, swap out the age statement for words such as “Reserve”, “Select”, “Pride” or something in Gaelic and sell it for a very high price. Good on the Ben Nevis brain trust for not doing any of those things. Well, that last part is true in the UK where this goes for £40 or so; the few listings I found for the US were closer to $100. This sample comes from a bottle released a couple of years ago with a label different from the current iteration—which is in line with the new Ben Nevis house label; the whisky in the bottle itself has apparently not changed. But what is that whisky in the bottle like? Continue reading
I reviewed three 20+ yo Ben Nevis last month, all from Signatory, all distilled in 1991 and all from sherry butts. I found the 22 yo and the 24 yo from the trio to be excellent and the 26 yo to be merely very, very good. None of them exhibited sherry bomb character, allowing the distillery’s unique funky mix of fruit and malt and mineral notes to come through front and center. Today I have another 20+ yo Ben Nevis from a sherry butt (this time specified as a refill sherry butt). This was bottled not by Signatory but by the German outfit, Whisky Doris—though for all I know, Signatory may be the source of their casks. This one is from 1996, another year from which a number of casks have been bottled. In addition to the official 1996-2012 I’ve reviewed a number of indies as well: an 18 yo from Liquid Treasures; a couple from Cadenhead (this 19 yo and this 17 yo); and another 18 yo from Whisky Import Nederland. Indeed, my very first Ben Nevis review was of a 9 yo, 1996 bottled by Duncan Taylor under their Whisky Galore label. All of them—whether from bourbon or sherry casks—have ranged from very good to excellent; and all have been anything but cookie cutter whiskies. Let’s hope this one doesn’t let the side down. Continue reading
Let us bring Ben Nevis week to a close. To recap, three sherry casks filled in 1991 and bottled by Signatory at the ages of 22, 24, and 26. I thought the 22 yo was a gem and then liked the 24 even more. Do I dare hope that the 26 will be better still? Of course, we know that age is no reliable predictor of quality—a few extra years can take a cask past its prime just as easily as they can add further depth. I am hoping for good things though as the colour of this sample suggests that this too was not an over-active sherry cask. Hopefully, that funky, fruity Ben Nevis character will be front and center here as well. Let’s see if that’s the case.
Ben Nevis 26, 1991 (57.3%; Signatory; sherry butt 2377; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: That familiar mix once again of musky citrus, powdered ginger, malt and yeast. On the second sniff the powdered ginger moves in the slightly rubbery direction of old-school medicine bottles. With time and air the sweeter fruit from the palate (peach nectar) joins the musky citrus. A few drops of water and there’s more malt and some very milky cocoa to go with all the rest. Continue reading
Here is the second of three Ben Nevis 1991s this week. Like Monday’s 22 yo, this 24 yo was bottled by Signatory from a sherry butt. I loved the 22 yo—will this one be as good? Let’s see.
Ben Nevis 24, 1991 (55.7%; Signatory; sherry butt 3834; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: A very obvious relative of the 22 yo but here the roasted malt and nutty notes are on top of the citrus (which is brighter/more acidic: lime). On the second sniff the citrus is muskier (makrut lime peel) and here’s the powdered ginger too now. Continues in this vein. A few drops of water and there’s a big hit of citronella and then the fruit begins to get first sweeter and then savoury: peach nectar laced with lime juice and a bit of salt. Continue reading
Here starts a week of reviews of sherry matured whiskies from Ben Nevis. All three of this week’s whiskies were distilled in 1991 and were bottled by Signatory. Signatory, by the way, have bottled 31 of the 42 releases of 1991 Ben Nevis listed on Whiskybase. They’ve all but cornered the market on that vintage. My reviews start with this 22 yo; on Wednesday I’ll have a review of a 24 yo; and Friday I’ll have a review of a 26 yo. Assuming the casks were of similar character/quality this may shed some minor light on the effects of a few more years of aging past the 20 year mark. All these samples, by the way, came to me from the excellent Michael K. of Diving for Pearls. Last week he reviewed all three and added on two others for good measure—a 23 yo and a 25 yo. So if you’re interested in that question of the incremental effects of aging you can find more specific data on his blog. I have avoided looking at his reviews so as to not be overly influenced by his silken tones. Continue reading
My recent batting average with Ben Nevis is very high. I can’t remember the last one I disliked and most have been very good indeed; in particular a few that were distilled in 1996 (for example, this, this and this). That’s good news because this is a Ben Nevis, 1996 too. Therefore, as per science, this is likely to be very good. Let’s see if that’s the case.
Ben Nevis 18, 1996 (50.7%; Liquid Treasures; bourbon hogshead; from my own bottle)
Nose: Big fruit (sweet citrus mixed in with tinned pineapple and a bit of peach) along with a big malty note as well as some cocoa. In other words, very Ben Nevis. The malt gets yeastier as it sits and some tingling oak emerges as well; the fruit is all still here though. Sweeter and more floral with a few drops of water. Continue reading
Let’s close out the week’s whisky reviews with yet another K&L exclusive. On Monday I reviewed a Tamdhu 19. I liked it, thought it was very drinkable indeed, but was not blown away by it. Today I have a Ben Nevis that is a year younger. As regular readers of the blog know, I am generally a big fan of contemporary Ben Nevis. The distillery’s malt usually provides a very unique mix of fruit, malt and a characteristic funk that is very hard to describe. Will this one be in that vein? I certainly hope so. Let’s see.
Ben Nevis 18, 2001 (52.8%; Old Particular for K&L; refill hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: Takes a few seconds to open up and then there’s some lemon with a prickly, peppery mineral note alongside. Below that is some malt, some sweet notes of vanilla and cream and just a bit of that Ben Nevis gasoline funk. As it sits richer, muskier fruit begins to gather in the background but doesn’t quite pop out—maybe with more time? Well, not so much with time but with water there’s sweeter fruit (peach?) and it melds nicely with the malt and the cream. Continue reading
I couldn’t remember where my sample of the Benriach Heredotus Fumosus came from, but there is no mystery with this sample. The presence of the infernal black tape around the cap means it came from Michael K. (of Diving for Pearls). I guess I should be thankful he’s not dipping sample bottles in wax. Yet.
Everything I could tell you about the provenance of this NAS retro Ben Nevis would be stolen from Michael’s review, so you may as well go and read it first if you’re interested in that kind of thing. I’m not sure if new versions of this are still being made, or what really the status of Ben Nevis’ current official releases is. The new 10 yo—which was great—went away and then came back (is the returned version as good as the previous?). In between there was another batch release 10 yo which I did not care for very much. Hopefully, this will be better. Let’s see. Continue reading
The last Ben Nevis I reviewed was an official release: the Batch 1 release of a 10 yo from 2008. That was I believe an interim release till their new 10 yo—which I did like a lot—came back online. I don’t think there has been a Batch 2. Anyway, whatever its status, I was not a fan. I have not had the 2019 release of the regular 10 yo; I do hope it’s at the level of the prior release. The 14 yo I am reviewing today is an independent release. It was bottled by the Creative Whisky Co. in their Exclusive Casks line for Total Wine in the US. I believe that the Creative Whisky Co. is no longer a going concern as of 2018. There’s so much ferment in the whisky world. This whole introduction has been nothing but a record of uncertainty. What is certain, however, is that Michael K., the source of my sample, really liked this one (see his review), though he was undecided about the cask type. Our thoughts on Ben Nevis tend to align. Let’s see if that will continue to be the case here. Continue reading
I reviewed the (then) new Ben Nevis 10 early last year and really liked it. In fact, I asked—largely rhetorically—if it was the best entry-level malt whisky on the market (and it was very fairly priced too). In response it promptly went off the market. The distillery apparently ran out of stocks that would have allowed them to continue to make it to the same specifications—there’s an account of this in a review on Whiskybase or you could take a look at Michael K.’s recent review which summarizes matters. Rather than go completely off the market the distillery formulated this one-off cask strength release, which is a vatting of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-wine casks. And it is a vintage release from 2008 distillate. Since then the regular 10 yo has indeed come back on the market. This is good news, but it must be said that I have not read any reviews of the new release and am therefore only hopeful that it will be very similar, if not identical to the batch I really liked. This cask strength release I can tell you—spoiler alert—I don’t like as much, I opened it not too long after buying the bottle some months ago and thought it was just okay. I then took it to one of my local group’s tastings and it did quite well there. The bottle has since sat at below the halfway mark for a couple of months—I’m curious to see if it has improved further. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Continuing my miniseries of older whiskies (after Monday’s Tomatin 25 and yesterday’s Caperdonich 27), here is a Ben Nevis. Unlike the other two, it was released this year but, alas, this review is not very timely. I purchased the bottle from Whiskybase—who bottled it under their Archives label—a couple of months ago and waited a bit too long to open and taste it. After my first taste I raced back to their site to get another but it was gone. Yes, I liked it a lot. What is the other proof of this? Well, I’ve finished the bottle less than a month after I opened it. Also, I recently took it to a whisky gathering in St. Paul that featured some very heavy hitters (early 70s Ardbeg, early 80s Port Ellen and Caol Ila, late 70s Laphroaig 10 and so on) and it held its own. Lovers of fruity malts already know this, but the once dodgy Ben Nevis distillery is now one of our very best sources for exuberantly fruity whisky. Of course, as it’s Ben Nevis it’s got some funky notes mixed in but that’s part of the fun. Continue reading
Here is the last of four Total Wine exclusives that I purchased a couple of months ago. In April, Michael K. and I posted simul-reviews of three of these: a Glen Ord, a Caol Ila, and a Laphroaig. The last is this Ben Nevis. Michael K. has a sample of this as well but we didn’t end up setting up a simul-review of this one for some reason. Like the Glen Ord and the Caol Ila, this one was also bottled by Montgomerie’s. Ben Nevis of this age, from ex-bourbon casks can be very fruity indeed and so this has potential; on the other hand, the other Montgomerie’s selections did not exactly set the world on fire. Let’s see where this one falls.
Ben Nevis 19, 1997 (46%; Montgomerie’s; cask 186; from a bottle split)
Nose: Malty, slightly cardboardy to start but below that there’s milk chocolate and orange peel. An unlikely combination but it works. The citrus expands as it sits. A drop or three of water pull out more citrus still and also some cherry. Continue reading
While I have reviewed a number of independent releases of Ben Nevis, it has been more than three years since my last review of an official release—this single cask 1996-2012. As I’ve noted before, Ben Nevis’s somewhat dodgy past reputation has been overhauled in recent years, and this has been marked most clearly in the rising prices of their official vintage releases. The recent’ish makeover of their entry-level 10 yo, however, has not been accompanied by an unreasonable price. Not in the UK, at any rate: there you can get it for £32 ex. vat. I’m not even sure if it’s in the US. What pops up on Winesearcher is the old 10 yo (which had a different label), and that’s going for $75 and more. That might make it the priciest 10 yo on the market—and that older version was not even very good. This one is very good; since taking the picture, I’ve consumed half of the bottle—and though I have another on the shelf next to it, I might have to get another when I’m in the UK next month. Continue reading
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