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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