...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Ben Nevis 19 year old 1999 Valinch & Mallet, cask 18-1901

Here's today's whisky:

Here's last Friday's whisky:

Side by side:

Look at today's whisky, on the left, swallowing light. I went in on the bottle split because I thought it was a sherry cask. It's not. It's a bourbon hogshead.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Valinch & Mallet
Range: Hidden Casks Collection
Age: 19 years (1999-2018)
Maturation: bourbon hogshead
Cask number18-1901
Outturn: 278 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.8%
(from a bottle split)

It noses of lumber, bark, caramel, pine needles, cocoa, black peppercorns, caramel, brine, mint and caramel. The punishingly sweet palate rings of sweet vermouth and tawny port. Orange oil, eucalyptus and acres of bitter oak. It finishes with cloying sugar syrup and bitter oak.

Um, water?

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose is of a dustier bourbon now. Lots of caramel, butterscotch, barrel char and vanilla custard. There's more vanilla and barrel char on the palate, with some bubblegum, sweet vermouth and intensely drying tannins. It finishes with a sugary swirl of vanilla and cherry juice.

As a Ben Nevis this is turrible. Had someone done this to a Springbank or Clynelish or Lagavulin there would be pitchforks and tears and gnashing of teeth throughout whiskydom. The whisky makes one wonder if "Hidden Casks" refers to the act of finding the thing in the back of the warehouse way way way too late.

BUT. As a bourbon it is of interest. It's essentially a combination of two genres of American whiskey. Part One: those wine cask finished thingies from Angel's Envy and Joseph Magnus. Part Two: Crafty-Craft Craft Craft Whiskey. And, you know what, it makes a decent old fashioned cocktail. I mean that was the whole purpose of this release, right?

Availability - A few bottles may still be available here and there in the USA and Europe
Pricing - $150-$200
Rating - 73 (but only if you pretend you're drinking bourbon)

Friday, September 18, 2020

Ben Nevis 18 year old 2001 Old Particular for K&L Wine Merchants

25% done with the series and what have I learned so far? That Ben Nevis can be weird and it can be overrun by aggressive sherry casks? Nah, I think many of us knew that already. I appreciate that each of the first four whiskies was its own creature, demonstrating that Ben Nevis has the potential to be a chameleon malt. But I'm not sure how I actually feel about that, especially if the quality rarely matches the quirk. Whisky number 5 on this trip is a refill hoggie, so perhaps it'll lean a little closer to Monday's Blackadder.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Particular
Age: 18 years (2001-2019)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask numberDL13264
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Alcohol by Volume: 52.8%
(from a bottle split)

The nose begins naked and raw, with barley and heat and sand. Then, gradually, it opens up. Milk Duds, McIntosh apples, plums, flowers, the first dose of BN industrial funk and some quirky savory spices. Malt, hard toffee and plums in the palate, followed by IPA-ish grapefruits (or grapefruit-ish IPAs), mint leaves, fresh ginger and a hint of that funk. A real citrus bomb in the finish, with grapefruits, oranges, lemons, ginger and mint leaf.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Ah, the nose has become much more medicinal while also adding in lemon peel and more maltiness. The palate also gains a medicinal note and citrus zests. Fewer sweets, more minerals. It finishes citric, mineral and malty.

I was hoping to experience The Funk (sans sherry cask!) and The Fruit in the same Ben Nevis at some point during this series, and here it is in the form of an 18yo refill hoggie. Though more complex when neat, the whisky sharpens and focuses nicely once it's diluted. For those folks wondering if Ben Nevis could be a casual drinker, this whisky answers in the affirmative. Crisp stuff. I like it.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $100
Rating - 88

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Ben Nevis 16 year old 1998 Cadenhead Authentic Collection

Ben Nevis + Cadenhead = a reliable next step. I didn't purposely set this series up to have several bourbon casks in a row, so it's just dumb luck that I have a chance to drink a few Ben Nevii that are (theoretically) closer to the spirit. Monday's Blackadder was very good. I'm looking forward to this single bourbon barrel of my favorite Western Highlands single malt.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: Authentic Collection
Age: 16 years old (1998 to Nov 2015)
Maturation: bourbon barrel
Outturn: 228 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 51.2%
(from a bottle split)

The nose begins with a good balance of metal, soil, orange peels and peach skins. Then some ocean notes, fresh cilantro, jalapeños and snuffed candle. At first the palate shows minerals, limes, kiwis and pound cake. But then it makes a beeline for rum. Specifically, Foursquare. And I can't get it out of my head. It finishes with Foursquare, limes, grass and black pepper.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Oh my gourd, now there's Foursquare in the nose. Once I can swim through the rum I find baked apples and toffee pudding. The palate is very desserty, with spice cake and raspberry sorbet. It finishes with berries and brown sugar.

Well, shoot. While there is in fact a 1998 Cadenhead Ben Nevis that was finished in rum casks, this is not the one. I've seen the bottle this came from. Anyway, the neat nose delights again, and the neat palate hits all the right spots for the first two sips. The Foursquare switcheroo is a little odd but not a dealbreaker. My bigger issue is that the whisky gets much too liqueur-like once diluted. So keep this whisky neat!

Availability - Probably sold out
Pricing - €90, I think
Rating - 84 (neat only)

Monday, September 14, 2020

Ben Nevis 15 year old 2003 Blackadder Raw Cask, cask 383

After reviewing two young sherry cask-led Ben Nevii, I'm trying out a run of five consecutive bourbon cask BNs, gradually increasing in age, beginning with this 15 year old hoggie from Blackadder. In my previous review of a Raw Cask single malt I said I liked the idea of this range more than the results, but I wouldn't mind a nude Nevis for the sake of this series.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Blackadder
Range: Raw Cask
Age: 15 years (15 December 2003 to January 2019)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask number: 383
Outturn: 279
Alcohol by Volume: 55.5%
(from a bottle split)

Ah, this is the stuff. The surprisingly complex nose holds stones, ocean, soil, apple pie and vanilla fudge, as well as hints of strawberry jam and apricots. But its earthiness reads the loudest. With time it develops a combo of lychee and medicinal notes that somehow work. The palate is earthy, fruity and sweet, with nectarines and honey. There's also an OBE-style metal-meets-dunnage note to keep the sugars in check, but it gradually gives in as the whisky gets very sweet with time. It finishes with honey, lemon juice, salt and a hint of smoke.

DILTUED TO ~46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Ocean and earth make up most of the nose with hints of anise and cut grass. The neat palate's sweetness has been washed away, leaving behind minerals, very tart limes and old newspapers. It finishes earth and smoky, with a squeeze of lime juice.

This is one of the better Raw Casks I've had the pleasure of trying. It is in fact not too raw. The nose is excellent, mixing a sturdy earthiness with smaller fruit notes. For me, the palate works better when it's diluted, as the sweetness dims and some heavier, old fashioned notes appear. To be totally vague, I must say this one feels the most "Ben Nevis" of the three whiskies so far. And now my hopes have risen for one stellar bourbon cask to appear in this series...

Availability - Sold out or almost so, was sold in Europe and the US
Pricing - probably north of $150, because Blackadder
Rating - 87

Friday, September 11, 2020

Ben Nevis 8 year old 2009 Single Cask Nation, cask 92

Here's an actual eight year old Ben Nevis, as opposed to Wednesday's 8 year old Nevis-loaded blended malt. This single first-fill sherry cask from the fellows at Single Cask Nation weighs in at 64.8%abv. SCN has bottled several 20+ year old Ben Nevises recently, so it seems like a cool idea to broaden their selection with a baby Ben. But still, that ABV.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Single Cask Nation
Age: 8 years old (Jan 2009 to Jan 2017)
Maturation: first-fill Oloroso sherry butt
Cask #: 92
Outturn: 633 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 64.8%
(from a bottle split)

Indeed it's big, but it's approachable. The nose shows cornbread, caramel and flowers first. Then a whiff of eggs (sulfur) that quickly shifts to gunpowder. Then there's raspberry jam, raspberry fruit leather, burnt prunes and walnuts in butter. The palate's not too hot, but it's a bit tight and almost entirely cask driven. Cocoa and black raisins. Lots of sweetness. Hint of ginger candy. The finish is creamier and nuttier than the palate.

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes more expressive: prunes, carob, walnuts, honey, almond butter and something earthy. The sulfur note remains. There's a nice combo of spices and baked pears on the palate, followed by bits of earth, bitterness, pepper and sweet citrus. It finishes very sweetly, with peppercorns and wood spice around the edges.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 2½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The sulfur is almost gone from the nose, but it's all oak at this point. Maybe some almond butter too. The palate begins to blur. Savory and sweet. Pepper and tart limes. The finish matches the palate.

Despite the whisky's age, there's very little distillery character on display because the cask influence is so massive. On a positive note, the nose's sulfur never slips into the palate at any point, so this Ben Nevis will appeal to folks just looking for a feisty sherried thing. Perhaps some additional water experiments may produce better results, say at 57%abv or 43%, but I couldn't find a spot where it topped the Glencoe 8yo. Of course, if you search the internet you'll find my opinion to be in the minority.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $90
Rating - 80

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Glencoe 8 year old Blended Malt

And so......I begin with Glencoe?


  • is produced by Ben Nevis Distillery
  • is sold at the distillery
  • was sold on the distillery's official site
  • now bears the same bottle and label design as Ben Nevis's single malt range
  • was created by the MacDonalds who also founded the distillery

It's Ben Nevis, but not 100% Ben Nevis. Glencoe IS a pure vatted blended malt made up of Ben Nevis and (allegedly) only one other distillery. It's bottled at a burly 58%abv, has loads of sherry cask influence and an actual age statement. And can be found for £40. It's also not swill.

Two years ago, I bought my bottle with the old style label for less than $60 (in total), then opened it for Killing Whisky History, Episode 30, this past March. It's not a casual summer sipper, so the fill level is just below the halfway point as I begin this tasting.

Ownership: Ben Nevis Distillery Ltd.
Brand: MacDonald's Glencoe
Type: Blended (or Vatted) Malt
Distilleries: Ben Nevis plus one other distillery (probably)
Age: 8 years
Maturation: sherry casks and bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 58%
Chillfiltered? Probably not
Color added? No
(from my bottle)

Big raisiny sherry notes lead off the nose with hints of gunpowder and seaweedy peat in the background. It picks up Werther's Originals and grape jam with time. The palate proves more complex than the nose. It starts with raisiny sherry, then adds on tart oranges and lemons, minerals, tart apples and a hint of rosewater. It finishes with dried cranberries, stones, cayenne pepper and tart citrus.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Somehow the nose becomes hotter and tighter, but the sherry element recedes as citrus and apples advance. The pleasant but simple palate holds raisins, peppercorns, mint and honey. It sweetens with time, as does the finish with its honey, oranges and nuts.

Though it's more approachable when diluted, Glencoe shows more depth at full strength. And while it'll never be as pretty as the more familiar, more expensive, sherried cask strength NAS single malts, it has a dirtier edge which makes it more fun for folks with a palate similar to mine. And I think it's safe to attribute the earthy, mineral, peat-ish side to its Ben Nevis content. A good value if you can buy it in Europe.

Availability - Many European whisky specialists
Pricing - £40-£50
Rating - 84

Monday, September 7, 2020

Five weeks, Sixteen Ben Nevises

There comes a time in a whisky blogger's bloggery when the blogger must binge on a favorite distillery's whisky until the very spelling of the distillery's name makes him vomit. I mean, that's the whole point of these public displays. As per Aristotle's thoughts on tragedies we're purging societal poisons via the spectacle.

Right, (95%) guys?

Okay then. Ben Nevis.

Though I execute my tasting sessions with an unhealthy level of mindfulness, the actual write-ups are often quite rushed because this parent's free time is very limited, resulting in missing words, mixed metaphors and daft intros. I intend to treat each post in this Ben Nevis series as a chapter or part of an ongoing exploration, so the introductions may be minimal or will only reference the preceding reviews, culminating in something possibly quackers in the final week as a celebration of my younger daughter's birthday.

This page will be HQ. Below, I will link to each whisky after its review, hopefully in a timely manner, so whatever poor soul who chooses to journey with me can return here for reference purposes.

Here's another fine mess I've gotten me into:

1. Glencoe 8 year old Blended Malt
2. Ben Nevis 8 year old 2009 Single Cask Nation, first fill sherry butt, cask 92
3. Ben Nevis 15 year old 2003 Blackadder Raw Cask, bourbon hogshead, cask 383
4. Ben Nevis 16 year old 1998 Cadenhead Authentic Collection, bourbon barrel
5. Ben Nevis 18 year old 2001 Old Particular for K&L, refill hogshead