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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


  1. NIce whisky, it shows the Ben Nevis character (edgy, idiosyncratic, flavorful), but is a bit 1- (or 2-?) dimensional, because of the young age. Some stores sell it for same price as the 10yo Ben Nevis - I would pick the 10yo, even though I haven't tasted it.

    1. Yeah, I'm with you on this. Near the bottom of the bottle now. It's still "unromantic, punchy stuff" but not much more than that. They could make it a cheaper NAS sort of thing, but the distillery seems to have invested in actual graphic design for the packaging, so that's my pipe dream.

  2. Reviews are so mixed on Nevis I can not workout any of it's character! Since you mention Bitterness on this Nevis Replicia I tried the Lagulvin Replicia on emotion and it was so dam RAW ANISEED for me! Maybe I have OLD-SCHOOL/OLD-FASHION malts CONFUSION? Mortlach, Keith, Braes of Glenlivet, musty OLD casks notes, balanced caskS, clean coalfire smoke, fresh milled barley, etc.

    1. Hi Clive! Ben Nevis is a quirky malt. You may see some reviewers say it's the latest popular distillery amongst connoisseurs, but that's unwise hype. Ben Nevis can take on many different personalities. It can be musty, it can be fruity, it can be earthy. Sometimes it can be all three. Sometimes it's just strange.

      Bitterness can be a palate preference or dealbreaker. It can herbal from the spirit or it can be sharp and aggressive from the oak. I prefer the herbal kind, but that's a personal take.

      "What is Old Fashioned" would be a great post / essay. I can't do it justice in a comment. But I think you're on the right track, especially since I enjoy those characteristics a lot!