...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Ben Nevis 15 year old 1998 single cask 596

Don't mind if I do.

In addition to being scarce, these official 15yo Ben Nevis single casks haven't been bottled since 2015. The distillery has since released older single casks, including a 49 and 51 year old.  O_O

So basically we're all missing out on these now, unless you're prepared to go in over your head at an auction. But there have to be more honey barrels in their warehouses somewhere. Come on, Nikka, you know they're there. The market's dying for a Glendronach 15 replacement.

Anyway, yesterday's 15yo single cask (587) was a knockout. And I tried it alongside today's 15yo single cask. Per their distillation and bottling dates, they may be twinsies.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Ownership: Nikka Whisky Distilling Company (part of Asahi Group Holdings)
Region: Highlands (Western)
Age: 15 years old (June 23, 1998 to May 2014)
Maturation: sherry butt
Bottles: 589
Cask: 596
Alcohol by Volume: 56.1%
(from a purchased sample)

It has a nice dark copper color like cask 587, though a little lighter. The nose is milder, too, full of citrus, wood spice and a nuttier sherry influence. Lemons, clementines and a dab of prune. Cardamom and fennel seed. There's also a dingy exhaust note in the background. Limes, lemons and oranges in the palate. Cayenne pepper, mint leaves and ginger. LOTS of honey. More malt and almond extract. Like cask 587, a big bitter note rolls in after 20ish minutes. It picks up an agave nectar note, making it sweeter. The lemon citrus note continues into the finish, getting tangier with time. One also finds dried fruit, toffee and a peppery heat.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
White fruits and peaches in the nose. Almond cookies. Bell peppers and a hint of peat. Honey, blueberry jam, limes and a few dried berries in the palate. Mild tanginess and bitterness. Tangy, sweet, bitter and sherried finish.

Different than #587, #596 has a gentler approach, calmer cask and more fruit. It's very good, but cowers in the shadow of its louder sibling.

It takes to water better. But its finish falls slightly short of the palate and nose. The palate's sweetness creates an imbalance, until the bitterness helps out. I'm picking nits here, because I'd be happy to own a bottle......at half its going rate. Its style will appeal to those with little interest in a sherry monster, and I believe this was the cask that appeared in the US. So there may be hope for someone out there.

Availability - European auctions or maybe somewhere hiding in the US
Pricing - Whoa (again)
Rating - 88

Monday, January 15, 2018

Ben Nevis 15 year old 1998 single cask 587

Official Ben Nevis 15 year old single sherry casks have been a thing since 2012, but they seemed to have become A Thing about two years ago. Like a $250/bottle-thing that sells out. How or why that happened is mysterious to me because one cannot accuse that Fort William distillery of being widely beloved.

My best guess is positive word of mouth has picked up steam (do words do that?) about the quality of Ben Nevis sherry casks coming from the independent bottlers, especially the Pitlochry-based one. The official single sherry casks are rarer and, well, official, so people who can pay the price then do.

Though I adore Ben Nevis's single malt, I did balk at the chance to buy one of these bottles for $170 because, even at that reduced price, that is some crazy cash for a 15-year-old whisky. Compared to Kavalan that may seem like mere pocket change, but the Taiwanese whisky is priced for a different demographic (conspicuous consumers) than Ben Nevis (nerds).

Though I have reconciled the fact that I'll never own one of these OB sherry casks, it was a nice surprise to find Master of Malt selling samples of them, so I was happy to pay the price (less than a bar pour of Macallan 12) to try A Thing. Or two.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Ownership: Nikka Whisky Distilling Company (part of Asahi Group Holdings)
Region: Highlands (Western)
Age: 15 years old (June 23, 1998 to May 1, 2014)
Maturation: sherry butt
Bottles: 629 (that's a big butt)
Cask: 587
Alcohol by Volume: 58.0%
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is loaded with dried currants, prunes, cloves and jelly-filled chocolates. A savory/beefy note grows and grows with time. New tennis ball. Maple syrup. Chocolate syrup. A hint of mustard seed. The insanely rich palate has some of the nose's dried fruit notes, along with a substantial umami/mushroom character. Tart limes, cayenne pepper, pipe tobacco, ginger beer. Then a sudden crash of horseradish bitterness. That's followed by minerals and a little more sweetness. The looooooooong finish is sweet and peppery with loads of both dried fruits and minerals. Hints of herbal bitterness and wood smoke.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
Water brings a little gunpower out into the nose. Maple syrup, salty ocean air, citrus and a whiff of peat. The palate is big on pepper and fresh ginger. Lots of wood spice. Dark chocolate and plums. The finish is spicy and sweet. Raspberry jam and plum clafoutis.

A monster. Thunderous. It reverberates around the senses, refusing to leave.

And here I was thinking my tastes had gotten all refined, grown beyond the taste for any succulent vulgarity such as this. Wrong.

I dare say this may be richer, more complex and, hell, better than any 20+ year old Glendronach single sherry cask I've had.

Maybe I should try another one of these official 15 year old single sherry casks...

Availability - European auctions
Pricing - Whoa
Rating - 91 (take the heat, drink it neat)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Ben Nevis 22 year old 1992 Cadenhead Small Batch

I know what you're thinking. And the answer is no, I did not already review this whisky during my first Malt Bar South Park post. Yet even if I did (and I didn't), sometimes it's helps to review a whisky separate from overwhelming surroundings that could have influenced the original experience. Hypothetically.

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Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead
Series: Small Batch
Age: 22 years old (1992-2014)
Maturation: a pair of ex-bourbon hoggies
Bottles: 444
Alcohol by Volume: 53.5%
(from a purchased sample)

A pleasant amber color to it. Oooh, weird nose. It starts off with a Springbank-like industrial note TIMES TEN, almost edging into Fettercairn and Loch Lomond territory. Then there's cucumber skins, ash, cherry popsicles and a fruit basket going overripe. After ~30 minutes in the glass it calms down and pulls itself together. Melon, cocoa, ash, flower blossoms and antiseptic. The palate is very herbal. Dried oregano, fresh ginger and melon rind. Good bitterness and sweetness. Slightly fudgy. Molasses + toffee + cannabis (not the worst combination). Dried herbs and honey in the finish. Slightly nutty. "Gingerful".

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
The funk returns to the nose, but so does a bright orange oil note. It also has some strong chalky and earthy notes that carry into the palate. The palate remains herbal and gingery. A bit of industrial funk here too. Sweet and tart (limes!). The toffee returns, as does a hint of bitterness. The finish has IPA-like grapefruit. Ginger and bitter herbs. Smoke residue. Great length.

It's a dark swampy whisky when it first hits the glass, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but balance is restored with plenty of air. The palate is herbal throughout, and does a good job of not going too sweet or too bitter. Again (hypothetically), "the palate gets the edge here."

This falls into the "fun whisky" category for me. It is anything but dull, delivering the sort of entertainment that works for a fluid ounce or three, but not something I'd want an entire bottle of. I anticipate even better Ben Nevises ahead...

 - might be available at some Cadenhead shops
Pricing - somewhere around €130-€160 (w/VAT)
Rating - 84

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ben Nevis 17 year old 1996 The Nectar of the Daily Drams

Ben Nevis Week One continues. I'm pretty confident that the single malts I'm reviewing today and tomorrow were pulled from ex-bourbon American oak casks. They have different vintages, ages, bottlers and ABVs; and, again, trying them side-by-side highlights each one's unique characteristics.

Living in the US hinders the whisky enthusiast's knowledge of the fun malty stuff happening on the European continent. So from what I've gathered, The Nectar is a Belgian importer and distributor, while Daily Drams is one of their bottling series.

This particular whisky has a low ABV for its age and I don't think the bottle states that it's a single cask, nor cask strength. Whiskybase lists that info, but I see nothing about it on the label. I'm bringing this up because while most indie bottlers make a point to focus on sexy phrases like "cask strength" and "single cask", The Nectar doesn't do so for this whisky. Because the alcohol content is low and there's no listed bottle count, one is left wondering if this was a small batch and/or diluted.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: The Nectar
Series: Daily Drams
Age: 17 years old (1996-2014)
Maturation: ex-bourbon cask(s?)
Alcohol by Volume: 49.3%
(from a purchased sample)

Nice to see a straw color on a 17yo whisky. The nose has two sides that mingle well. The patrician element is made of lemon yogurt, peaches, melons, green apples and fresh butter. Its plebeian side smells of old machinery and sweat. With time, the fruit takes the lead, but the dingier notes stick around. A duality exists in the palate as well. There's Nevis Nice: melon, toffee and tapioca. Then there's Nevis uNusual, with metallic fruit (yep, that again) and industrial funk. With time, it also picks up some lawn and bitterness. There's a good length to the finish. Melon Jolly Ranchers and honeydew. Lemon bars. A good bitterness balances out the sweetness.

It feels a bit fragile, so I'll keep the dilution to a minimum.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
Wow. Yes, this. The nose has pineapple, mango, dried apricots, malt, hints of barbecue and oceany phenolics. You know, old Laphroaig. [Editor's note: I'm an asshole.] The palate is similar to the nose, and adds on some nice bitterness and sweet lemons. Hints of fresh ginger and caramel sauce. It finishes with lemons and tropical fruit. Hints of ginger beer and bitter smoke.

The whisky was fine when it was neat. The interplay between the dark and light notes worked well. It finished nicely. But adding just a little water (approx. 1:15 water:whisky) made it reeeeeeallllly good. It's the difference between a B- and B+ whisky. If I had a bottle, I'd be tempted to lower the whole thing to 46%abv. Of course, I don't have a bottle because the Beneluxians wisely cleared these from shelves three years ago.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - maybe €90? 
Rating - 88 (with water)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Ben Nevis 18 year old 1997 Pearls of Scotland, Gordon & Company

This week was supposed to be all ex-bourbon casks, but, since I haven't the foggiest flight of fancy what yesterday's cask was, let's just call it Not-Sherry-Cask week. Maybe.

Today's Ben Nevis is truly un-sherried. Heck, it's un-oaked. I tried it along with yesterday's Nevis, and, yes, there were differences between the two.

pic from whiskybase
Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Gordon & Company
Series: Pearls of Scotland
Exclusive to: Total Wine & More
Age: 18ish years old (May 1997 - May 2015)
Maturation: sleepy hogshead
Cask #: 614
Bottles: 305
Alcohol by Volume: 50.9%
(from two purchased samples)

The color is five beer piss. The best color. Lovely spirit on the nose. Lemon curd, orange marmalade, yellow nectarines. Light medicinal, ocean and cotton notes. An old-bottle-effect sorta note, like metallic fruit (sorry, that's best I could do). A sweets-free palate. Limes, minerals, spicy mint leaves. Serrano pepper and a light bitter bite. Oranges. Slight note of musty Nevis funk. It finishes with limes, malt, cayenne pepper and a hint of smoke.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv
The nose is all ink, moss, butter and the smell of a glencairn an hour after its peated whisky has been emptied. Specific! A big herbal bitterness opens up in the palate. Then there's burlap, ink, notebook paper and a mild sweetness. It finishes tangy and bitter. With sweet and smoky residues.

This is an example of a very reserved cask that shaved off most of the rough edges and heat, while lifting up the spirit's highlights. Maturation without intrusion. Smart work by G&C. And kind of brave, considering what a wild card Ben Nevis used to be.

Josh, over at The Whiskey Jug, liked this one a lot. And he wisely bought a bottle back when it was $75(!). He found the lemon curd in the palate, but also found the orchard fruit note in the nose.

If you can still find a bottle for less than $100, and you prefer low-oak single malts, and you like Ben Nevis, then you can do worse than this one!

Availability - May still be available at a few European retailers
Pricing - $85-$120
Rating - 86

Monday, January 8, 2018

Revisiting Ben Nevis 14 year old 1998 Exclusive Casks

To start off the dozen-review run of Ben Nevis single malts, I'm going to revisit the first Ben Nevis I reviewed on this site. The whisky left me saying, "This is really......What is this?" In a good way. In fact it might be my favorite single cask bottled by David Stirk's outfit. The first time I tried it, I thought it was from a sherry cask. Later I did not. Now, I dunno. But I do like me some strange.

With all the wisdom I have gained, or (mostly) lost, over the past three and a half years I shall now consume this whisky once more.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co.
Series: Exclusive Casks
Exclusive to: Total Wine & More
Age: 14 years old (Dec. 1, 1998 - ???)
Maturation: some weirdo hogshead
Bottles: 258
Alcohol by Volume: 53.2%

While there's some rich wood character in the nose, it gets relocated to the background. Up front it's barley and burnt plastic meets roses, oranges and fruit candy. It all gets prettier with time. The aromatic palate has raspberry jam, oranges, sea salt and something that's like a combination of fudge, honey and nutmeg. There's a reliable dingy, almost smoky, note throughout. In fact, things get smokier and maltier with time, while picking some peach and bitter notes too. It finishes with orange, fudge, vanilla and a hint of smoke. It gets grassier and spicier with time.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv
A different creature. The nose is all plastic toys, new book ink, newspaper print and new dollar bill. Meanwhile the palate has gotten silkier and creamier. Hints of ink and smoke. But also limes and a peachy pudding. It finishes with limes, peaches, smoke and vanilla bean.

Idiosyncratic and delightful.   ←←← a phrase I'll probably use all month, thus rendering the word 'idiosyncratic' indistinct.

More to the point: I've now listed five different tastings of this same whisky on this site, and while the same notes appear throughout, they show up at slightly different times, combinations and strengths. Yet, the whisky is always very good. This time, I liked the palate better than the nose, when neat. But the diluted nose's transformation was a hoot! Loved it.

Laser Wolf speculated, in the comments section of the bottle's previous review, that the cask could have been some active US oak that held some funky French wine. I might even second that. Or...... it's Ben Nevis being Ben Nevis?

A harbinger of Ben Nevis reviews to come?

Availability - Long gone, like a turkey through the corn (💙 ol' Sam)
Pricing - $80
Rating - 88

Friday, January 5, 2018

Killing Whisky History, Episode 8 - Old Fitzgerald Prime, bottled 1964-1965

The first Killing Whisky History episode of 2018, on the first Friday of the first month, has arrived!

I figured I'd celebrate and sell out with some Stitzel-Weller (keyword: Pappy Van Winkle) action. This particular Old Fitz bourbon hit the market right around (and possibly because of) the retirement of PAPPY VAN WINKLE. Did I mention, Pappy Van Winkle?

Here's a list of the 11 Whiskies That Are Just Like Pappy Van Winkle:

No, I'm taking the piss. I'll leave those Pappy Van Listicles for the 327 other blogs and reputable non-whiskey publications that wouldn't know a mashbill if it hit 'em in the winkle.

It's show time. Thanks for watching!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Ben Nevis Distillery: An Introduction and History


It's Ben Nevis month here at Diving for Pearls!

What does that mean exactly? Unless a cold knocks out my palate — the odds of which are favorable in this household — I will be reviewing TWELVE Ben Nevis single malts, four per week, and then opening up one of my bottles of Ben Nevis for a thirteenth review. That whisky will probably be a bit different than the dozen that precede it and should add to the overall experience.

There will still be a Killing Whisky History on Friday, which will be something which is most certainly NOT Ben Nevis. And maybe I'll throw in a review of something else fun at the end of the month.

Don't be surprised if there are additional distillery and brand explorations in the future...


Ben Nevis Distillery was founded by Long John McDonald (among other investors) in 1825, on the very Fort William acreage on which it operates today. Such was Ben Nevis's early success that a second facility, Nevis Distillery, was built nearby in 1878. But when the whisky market busted, the newer distillery closed in 1908. The original Ben Nevis site continued production and remained in the McDonald family until 1941, when it was sold to Joseph Hobbs, a Canadian millionaire who made his fortune bootlegging Teacher's Highland Cream into America during Prohibition.

Hobbs kept very busy in Scotland during the war years, helping National Distillers of America get their hooks into the Bruichladdich, North Esk, Glenury Royal, Fettercairn, Strathdee, Glenlochy and Benromach distilleries. He also had a brewery rebuilt into Lochside distillery. But Ben Nevis was his, and he immediately shut it down. For fourteen years. When he reopened it in 1955, it now had a Coffey Still and concrete washbacks. Both grain and malt were produced on site, and blends of the two were barreled at birth.

The distillery closed again in 1978, and the distillery was sold back to the McDonald family in 1981. It was reopened in 1984, with the Coffey Still removed. The distillery closed again in 1986. In 1989 it was sold to Nikka Whisky Distilling Company (now part of Asahi Group Holdings). Nikka opened the distillery in 1989, having replaced the concrete washbacks with steel and wooden ones.


Today, Ben Nevis has the capacity to distill 2,000,000 liters. Out of this total, it tends to produce about 50,000 liters of heavily peated (30-35ppm) spirit. It's one of the last (if not the last) scotch distilleries to use Brewer's Yeast. Fermentation used to be 48 hours in the steel washbacks and 96 hours in the wooden washbacks, but as of 2014 it's now 48 hours in all of them. Ben Nevis new make weighs in at 70%abv, and is barreled at 63.4%abv. Those barrels go into one of five dunnages or the racked warehouse. Or...

According to Malt Whisky Yearbook 2018, 75% of the distillery's output is transported to Japan for Nikka's blends, including Black Nikka. (On an editorial note, I have to say that sounds spectacularly inefficient, but I'd love to see how those tankers go from the West Highlands to the Chiba Prefecture.) That's up from the 50% amount reported two years earlier. Apparently the Japanese are thirsty.


Now that I've plumped your brains with useful nerdery, I shall dazzle your eyes with Ben Nevis single malt reviews starting next Monday. In the meantime, sit tight and stay warm.

*   *   *   *   *


--MacLean, Charles. Whiskypedia. A Compendium of Scotch Whisky. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010.
--MacLean, Charles. Scotch Whisky, A Liquid History. London, UK: Cassell Illustrated, 2005.
--Ronde, Ingvar (Ed.). Malt Whisky Yearbook 2018. Shropshire, UK: MagDig Media. 2017.