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Friday, October 2, 2020

Ben Nevis 23 year old 1996 Single Malts of Scotland, cask 1479

The sherry casks are killing it, with the first three easily topping the seven Ben Nevises that preceded them. The last of the 1996s from this five-week run, this whisky was released in the United States *gasp*  this year *double gasp*. Elixir Distillers seems to have quite the cask stash of '96 Nevises, with at least 15 bottled so far. And I just realized I've already reviewed three of them, scores ranging from 87 to 91, with this Whisky Trail Birds bottling placing Best in Show. Time for another!

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Elixir Distillers
Range: Single Malts of Scotland
Age: 23 years old (21 October 1996 - 1 November 2019)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask #: 1479
Outturn: 405 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.7%
(from a bottle split)

The nose leads off with fudge, ocean and barrel char(!). Then peach liqueur, flower blossoms and lychee candy. Smaller notes of old books, eucalyptus, mint extract and saline drift in and out. The palate is very tannic, yet also very fruity. Woody bitterness and pu-erh tea. Yellow nectarines and peach juice. Almond cookies and amaretto. It gets saltier with time. The finish is enormously tannic, full of green woody bitterness with smaller notes of peaches, roses, hops and sea salt in the background.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose gets fruitier and more floral. The oak shifts towards toasted notes. And there's a quirky OBE-like note in the back. The bitter tannins shift to creamy vanilla in the super dessert-y palate. Some dried apricots, canned peaches and ink. The bitterness returns, mildly, in the finish, with the palate's vanilla, apricots and ink remaining.

I'm not sure if the cask was heavily-charred or re-charred or revamped or reactivated or rehabilitated. In any case it has produced a very oaky whisky, which is a shame because there are some good fruit notes that are almost hidden beneath the wood. Dilution lifts up the better notes and calms the oak. Still, when compared with the previous three sherry cask Nevises, it falls short of their balance, depth and distinctiveness. Yet Angus and Ruben each gave it a 90, and whiskybase weighs in at 89.33 as of today, so this style is clearly loved by others.

Availability - Several US specialty retailers
Pricing - $230-$260
Rating - 84 (with water, closer to 80 when neat)

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