This week's review focuses on an independently bottled expression from Ben Nevis distillery that showcases the distillery's house style while providing a different interpretation through the use of a Fino rather than an Oloroso sherry cask in the maturation process.
The distillery is located in the town of Fort William and is situated at the foot of Ben Nevis, which is the highest mountain in Britain and is also the source of the distillery's name. At one point in time, Fort William was the home of three distilleries (Ben Nevis, Nevis and Glenlochy), but only the former remains to this day.
The distillery was founded in 1825 by "Long" John McDonald and was passed on to his son, Donald, upon John's death in 1856. The demand for the whisky produced by the distillery was so great that another distillery by the name of Nevis was built nearby in 1878.
Both distilleries operated in tandem with one another for the next 30 years before Ben Nevis took over the operations of Nevis in 1908. The distillery remained in the hands of the McDonald family until 1941, when it was sold to an eccentric Canadian millionaire by the name of Joseph W. Hobbs.
The ownership of the distillery remained within the Hobbs family's ownership until 1981, when it was sold back to Long John Distillers and Whitbread. After an extensive restoration and reconstruction process which took 3 years and cost £2 million, the distillery was once again operational in 1984.
In 1989, the distillery was once again sold and this time came under the ownership of Nikka Whisky Distilling Company Ltd, which is a subsidiary of Nikka Whisky and Asahi Breweries of Japan.
In the years since, the whisky produced at Ben Nevis distillery has played an increasingly important role for Nikka and has supplied whisky for several of its owner's blended whiskies. It is even common knowledge that a third of the annual production of new-make spirit is sent directly to Japan in order to be used first and foremost within the popular blend, Nikka Black.
The distillery does produce its own range of single malt whiskies and the core range consists of a 10 Years Old expression as well as a peated offering named MacDonald's Traditional. The distillery also produces a blended malt under the name MacDonald's Glencoe as well as a blended whisky called The Dew of Ben Nevis.
This week's review focuses on a 16 Years Old expression of Ben Nevis which was distilled in 1998 and has been fully matured in a Fino sherry cask before being bottled at 46% abv by independent bottler Carn Mor for their 'Strictly Limited' range.
Ben Nevis 1998 16 Years Old (46% abv)
Nose: Initial entry presents a vegetal note that is typical of sherry-matured Ben Nevis expressions, followed by hints of wood varnish. There is a certain sweetness coupled with a slight hint of sea salt, which is to be expected considering the distillery's location near the western coast of Scotland.
Black pepper, nutmeg and oak also make an appearance and the dryness of the Fino sherry also features in what is a rather complex and intriguing nose.
Palate: Not as sweet as the nose would suggest, but the characteristic Fino sherry notes and dryness is definitely present. Vegetal and spicy, with the nutmeg and black pepper on the nose also transferring onto the palate.
A good amount of oak coupled with a nice alcoholic note adds to the character of this dram, while there is just a tiny hint of the sea salt that was detected on the nose.
Finish: A relatively long and rather intense finish, with the alcohol, black pepper and oak playing dominant roles to the very end. The Fino sherry notes are also present, but prefer to linger in the background and observe the proceedings from afar.
Balance: Balanced to an extent, but perhaps skewed slightly towards the spicy and dry side of things. Nevertheless, a rather good representation of the Ben Nevis house style and quite different from what one would usually expect from an Oloroso sherry-matured offering from the distillery.
This particular expression of Ben Nevis is available for purchase from The Single Cask by the bottle or by the dram and is also available for retail/takeaway purchase. More information on this whisky can be found in the bar, so please approach our friendly bartenders for assistance.
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