...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Ben Nevis McDonald's Traditional, limited edition (2012)

In 2012, Ben Nevis distillery released an NAS single malt modeled to harken back to their whisky from 130 years earlier. Its limited 700-bottle outturn came with weathered-looking labels, a stamped bottle number and the distillery manager's signature.

What's funny is that no one could ever accuse Ben Nevis of producing a contemporary style of single malt. There's always been an old feeling to their whisky, with its warts-and-all, variable style. Perhaps the owners, Nikka/Asahi, wanted a piece of the peated-NAS whisky market. And indeed the whisky was pulled from their limited ~35ppm peated spirit runs.

The first edition sold so well that the McDonald's Traditional was rereleased (with a five year old age statement) as an unnumbered part of the distillery's range. That version is currently being sold at many European whisky retailers and even at a few American shops.

For reasons lost on me, a store in California was carrying a numbered first edition 700mL bottle. So I bought it. After collecting dust in my whisky closet for nearly four years, it is now being opened in honor of this Ben Nevisfull month.

Many thanks to Kristen for taking the photos!
Distillery: Ben Nevis
Ownership: Nikka Whisky Distilling Company (part of Asahi Group Holdings)
Region: Highlands (Western)
Age: not stated, though the subsequent edition is 5 years old
Maturation: ???
Bottle #: 650 of 700
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(from my bottle)

Its color is very dark, very possibly because it is bottled "mit farbstoff". This seems out of step with the "130 years ago" theme. The nose is full of metals and mosses. Dark chocolate and mint. New plastic toys, sugary peat and a hint of butterscotch. The palate is framed within a strong herbal bitterness. Burnt nuts, soot and ash. Smoky caramel sauce. Overall, it gets sweeter with time, but the bitterness and smoke stay in the lead. Bitter ashy peat and tart lemons in the finish. Mild sweetness, tingly heat, a good length.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv
The nose gets dirtier, harsher, narrower. Sugary peat remains. A hint of white peach. But the sooty, dingy notes are pushed back in the palate. It's sweeter, less bitter. Some cinnamon and nutmeg. The finish is shorter and simpler. Tingly, bitter and sweet.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv
Heavy peat in the nose, reminiscent of Kilchoman. Lemon zest and mint candy. The palate is similar to that of the 43%abv sampling. More pepper. Thinner. Not much going on in the finish. Pepper, peat, bitter.

My notes may not read as such, but this was decent whisky when neat. It's unromantic, punchy stuff. Water does bring out some interesting moments, though primarily in the nose. Otherwise, it doesn't want to swim.

At first glance, the whisky seems to take occasionally edginess of Ben Nevis and then cranks it up. But after further contemplation, I wonder if most of that is due to young heavily peated spirit being aged in refill barrels. Yes, whisky makers did such things 130 years ago, but Ben Nevis wasn't alone in that approach. In fact, today's independent bottlers are cranking out refill barrel-aged young peated whisky at a pretty constant rate right now, with mixed results.

The good news is that this is better than most of the immature face burners I've tried. In fact, I wouldn't even call this one immature. This one was supposed to be a fighter, and it is.

Availability - Whisky specialist retailers in US and Europe
Pricing - $50-$120
Rating - 82

Friday, January 26, 2018

Ben Nevis 24 year old 1991 Signatory, cask 3833

Two parties remain at the end of this Ben Nevis series: those who enjoyed this exploration, and those who did not. The former group is likely a party of one. Me!

But wait, there's more! There's one final review next week, when I open an actual Ben Nevis bottle of my own. The whisky's style is expected to be quite different than the other BNs from this month. This is still exciting, see!

I'm ending the dozen regular reviews with the oldest of the bunch. Its from Signatory's Cask Strength Collection. You know, those bottles that look snazzy but are a pain in the ass to pour from? I do not have a 700mL bottle of this whisky, but I wish I did.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Signatory Vintage
Range: Cask Strength
Age: 24 years old (October 29, 1991 to January 22, 2016)
Maturation: sherry butt
Bottles: 566
Cask: 3833
Alcohol by Volume: 54.7%
(from a purchased sample)

Its color is light gold with a reddish hue. Its nose weaves three delightful threads, flawlessly. First: moss and black smoke. Second: cinnamon and coffee. Third: cherries, plums, peaches and mangoes! It also has a very Yamazaki 18yo note of sherry-soaked mizunara oak. The palate starts with a big note of tart fruits, along with toasted oak, toasted barely, bitter smoke and bitter coffee with rich sherry licking at the edges. After more than 20 minutes, tropical fruit juices flood in, carrying liquid honey and molasses. Its final act reveals toffee, salted almonds, cherry syrup, bitter smoke, lemons, mangoes and peat moss.

I was all, "This is pretty good", then the whisky was like, "Mangoes", then I went, "What!". True story.

One could say that this is a cousin of good ol' Ardmore, but I've never had an Ardmore behave so well in a sherry cask. One may also suggest it has hints of beloved '60s and '70s Longmorn, but then there's the peat.

It's harmony. Take that, Suntory. If you have a bottle from this cask, then ffffffffffff......fine. Happy Friday to you.

Availability - A few retailers in continental Europe, maybe
Pricing - around €150
Rating - 92 (best of this BN bunch)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Ben Nevis 23 year old 1991 Signatory UCF Collection, cask 2916

This week's final Ben Nevises are from a pair of Signatory single casks that cradled spirit born in 1991. Tomorrow's will be from Signatory's Cask Strength Collection. Today's BN is from Signatory's Un-Chillfiltered Collection, those skinny bottles with the white labels that instantly won me over during a more impressionable phase of my whisky life. It's still a very reliable range, with a solid presentation (46%abv, no chill filtration, no colorant added) and a limited amount of carpentry involved in the maturation of the final products.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Signatory Vintage
Range: Un-Chillfiltered Collection
Age: 23 years (August 16, 1991 to May 7, 2015)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask: 2916
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(from a purchased sample)

Its color is a surprisingly light amber. There's so much barley in the nose, all up front, flashing its stuff. Then iodine and gentle smoke. Peaches, orange candy and cantaloupe. Just a hint of mezcal in the background. The palate is also big on barley. Somewhat bready. Black grease and dunnage; more Clynelish-ish than Springbank-ish. A little bit of peach candy and lemon juice. More bitterness than sweetness, arriving often as bitter smoke. After 20 minutes in the glass, it picks up some nutty sherry and hay. The finish has a medium length, full of barley and lemons. A splash of herbal liqueur. Small notes of industrial chimney, plastic and hay.

Pretty solid dirty Highlands stuff. Sometimes it's quite youthful. There was a lightness to it that kept me from adding water. And there's zero heat at 46%abv, making it an easy sipper if suits your style. Not a whole lot to complain about, but I find myself in no rush to hunt down a bottle. Maybe I've started to set my Ben Nevis expectations even higher now. Or maybe I made the mistake of tasting this whisky next to cask 3833...

 - A few retailers in continental Europe, maybe
Pricing - around €100
Rating - 85

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ben Nevis 20 year old 1992 Signatory, cask 2314

In yesterday's review of cask 2310, my expectations of a richly sherried Ben Nevis were vaporized by the reality of a intensely tart, mineral, herbal whisky.

As I've been doing throughout this Ben Nevis series, I tasted two Ben Nevises side by side to gain perspective on each. In this case, I tried cask 2310 and 2314. They're both 20 year old Ben Nevises, matured in single sherry butts, bottled by Signatory, distilled on the same day in 1992 and bottled in 2013. And there's only 0.1 point difference in their ABVs. Yet cask 2310 turned out 623 bottles worth of whisky, while 2314 produced only 433.

Let's see how (or if) these factors resulted in different whiskies.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Signatory Vintage
Range: Cask Strength
Age: 20 years (July 3, 1992 to April 10, 2013)
Maturation: sherry butt
Bottles: 433
Cask: 2314
Alcohol by Volume: 55.4%
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is earthy and herbal, with small notes of horse manure and crumbly autumn leaves. There are also moments of dark chocolate, charred beef and uncooked bacon. There are stone fruits, raspberry jam and lemon surface cleaner. The palate has a nice balance of pepper, tartness, soft sweetness and mild minerals. There are hints of raspberry jam and plum wine, but not as sugary as that sounds. Some mint leaves, bitter soot, toasted oak spices and maybe some rye. The lean but long finish is plenty peppery and herbal, with some good bitterness. A little bit of fruity sweetness and dried berries show up late.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
The nose has brighter fruit notes, especially some bright lemon zest. Yet it also registers a little bit meatier. A hint of iodine in the background. The palate is similar to the neat version. Some more limes. A little bit of dry sherry. More black pepper. A moldy dunnage note appears in the finish, along with pepper, tart fruity and a subtle sweetness.

Had I tried this one on its own, I probably would have remarked on its austerity and sharpness. But next to cask 2310, this almost registers as a crowd pleaser. While I don't actually think it's a crowd pleaser, it does have more fruits and sweetness. There's a good balance to it, and it swims well. The difference between the two may be linked to the extra evaporation in cask 2314, or different placement in the warehouse, or a zillion other mysterious chemical factors played out over twenty years.

Cask 2314 produced great whisky. Whether this cask is better than 2310 depends on one's palate and mood. While 2310's finish was excellent, 2314's balance and complexity win out. It's a near draw. One point difference in scores is piffle, really.

Availability - ???
Pricing - probably close to €120
Rating - 89

Monday, January 22, 2018

Ben Nevis 20 year old 1992 Signatory, cask 2310

Two years ago, at a whisky event with a parliament of LA's whisky geeks, I joined a conversation about which distilleries' spirits tend to work best in sherry casks. When I asked some very knowledgable folks, "What kind of magical fairy dust is Signatory sprinkling into their Ben Nev--", I was cut off with one "SHHHH", followed by a "Zip It".

I am here to tell you why I got shushed. Not only did the Symingtons of Signatory acquire what may been the lion's share of 1991 and 1992 Ben Nevis sherry butts, but the resulting whiskies have been very well received.

Now, there have been more than 40 of these single casks and because I (sadly) cannot try all of them, I can't say they're all great, and I have no idea how the newest ones fare. But after I review four of them this week, that will bring my total sampled up to eleven.

First up is a pair of 1992s. Cask 2310 today and cask 2314 tomorrow.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Signatory Vintage
Range: Cask Strength
Age: one day short of 21 years? (July 3, 1992 to July 2, 2013)
Maturation: sherry butt
Bottles: 623
Cask: 2310
Alcohol by Volume: 55.5%
(from a purchased sample)

The nose delivers a surprise early, starting out with a combination of new carpet, plastic, soil, walnuts and sharp cheddar. Over a period of 20+ minutes it shifts gears. Malt, lemon, brine, fresh herbs (tarragon?), hot concrete, tissues and hints of black raisins and cocoa. The palate is massively mineral. There's also plenty of very dry sherry. Limes and oranges with a hint of soot. A hammering of hot horseradish. Even though it picks up bits of toffee pudding and cherries after 30 minutes, the whole thing is unforgiving. A "blade", as I'm sure Serge would call it. Minerals, jalapeño oil, tart lemons and a few familiar sherry-ish dried fruits in the intense finish.

Wow. Will water wear it down?

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
While the hot concrete and green herbs remain in the nose, notes of dried apricot and gumdrops shine a wee light on things. It also picks up brisk notes of fresh ginger and charred beef. The palate remains lean and sharp. A basket of tart limes. Herbs. Plastic. Just a hint of dried fruit sweetness, but otherwise it's the driest mineral(est) white wine you can imagine. The finish keeps its length. And minerals. And pepper oil. More limes than lemons. A whiff of sherry.

A split stone with jagged edges. Approach carefully. But if you're in the mood for this style, it cuts right.

It was not at all what I was expecting, but it's the type of whisky that leaves no room for "hey, what about..." or "what if...". One accepts it on its own terms. And it sold me. The finish, especially, is dynamite. Now, about cask 2314...

Availability - A few retailers in continental Europe
Pricing - €120-€130
Rating - 88

Friday, January 19, 2018

Ben Nevis 18 year old 1996 First Cask, cask 1493

When one sees the term "refill sherry butt" on a single cask whisky's label, one doesn't actually know what one is going to get. There are some refill butts that seem to have been totally stripped of life, while others appear to have been dripping with fortified wine. This isn't just a difference between a second-fill and fourth-fill, it also has to do with how long the previous whisky(s) sat in the cask. Or — this is mere conjecture — some re-soaked the cask with sherry.

The OMC Ben Nevis I reviewed yesterday came from a "sherry butt". The term "refill" wasn't used, but it isn't legally required. The resulting whisky was an edgy, spirit-forward blast. Though today's Nevis was aged in a refill sherry butt, it resulted in a whisky rich with sherry and (European?) oak.

This is also an example of a whisky bottle I almost bought blindly, but I instead settled for a 60mL sample.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Whisky Import Nederland
Range: First Cask
Age: 18 years old (October 21, 1996 to March 25, 2015)
Maturation: refill sherry butt
Bottles: 450
Cask: 1493
Alcohol by Volume: 55%
(from a purchased sample)

Yes, the nose. Here comes the list: chocolate, dried apricots, mint gum, anise, yellow plums, pine, hints of mushroom and wood smoke. Reminiscent of some of those oaky cask strength armagnacs suddenly hitting the US shores. The palate is very fruity, like plums and Rainier cherries. Honey, dark chocolate, a little bit of salt and an intense tart candy sizzle. The plummy finish also has cocoa, cherry juice, tart limes and a puff of wood smoke.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv
The nose leads with cherry ice cream and toffee pudding. Then some barley, vanilla, limes and pine. The palate holds a balance of sweet and bitter with a hint of smoke. Fruits and herbs. Peaches and dried currants. A little bit of cayenne pepper heat. Those dried herbs stay for the finish, along with some dry smoke, dried fruit, tart fruit and toffee.

It's a very big, but easily consumable whisky that swims very well. It's much more huggable than the OMC from yesterday, though some may argue that any malt (like, say, Kavalan) can take up this style with a rich sherry cask. To that I'd say, yeah, often true. But this still balances salt/tart/bitter/sweet/smoke better than most. So there was certainly good storage and cask management also going on. Plus, damn, those fresh fruits. I don't find those in just any sherry cask. But the occasional Ben Nevis sherry cask? Yes.

More sherry cask BNs on the way, next week.

Availability - A few Continental European retailers
Pricing - around €115
Rating - 89

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Ben Nevis 19 year old 1996 Old Malt Cask, cask 12148

Next up in this month-long Ben Nevis series are a pair of independently bottled 1996 sherry casks. It has been enlightening trying two Nevises side-by-side each time. In this instance, these two casks sit at either end of the sherried Ben Nevis spectrum, from sharp to cuddly.

First off, it's a Hunter Laing release, a sherry butt courtesy of Old Malt Cask.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 19 years old (June 1996 to November 2015)
Maturation: sherry butt
Bottles: 572
Cask: HL12148
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is loaded with moss and grapefruit. Nutty dry sherry and an old blend's mustiness. Dill and dried leaves. Metallic dust and rust, rather than smoke. The palate is VERY herbal, backed with equal parts cigarette and peat smoke. Limes, toffee and a hint of vanilla bean. A bracing rush of tart and bitter, but in a good way (for those who like the style). The lime and peat notes expand with time. The finish has a significant mineral and metallic edge. Cigarette smoke, light sweetness and a bitter bouquet.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv
A good balance on the nose. Dried leaves, salty ocean air, toffee and raisins. The palate is slightly sweeter, though still has its sharp bitter side. More citrus (lemons and grapefruit), fewer herbs. Maybe some more smoke. Old blend metallic funk. It finishes a little sweeter. Lemons and grapefruit. Moldy dunnage.

Tart, bitter, metal, mineral, herbal, leafy, smoky, moldy, funky. Even when dilution sweetens it up, the whisky doesn't let go of its dirty soul. This Nevis is for specific palates, and proudly so.

Tomorrow, the other side of the mountain.

Availability - A retailer somewhere in Europe, maybe?
Pricing - just north of €100
Rating - 87

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.

You are not seeing this picture
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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.