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Ben Nevis (pronounced: ben NEV-is) is a curious beast, in parts a very quiet distillery that makes little noise about itself but also a distillery whose product seems to be everywhere, I'm sure there isn't a single independent bottler that hasn't had at least one cask...
Ben Nevis (pronounced: ben NEV-is) is a curious beast, in parts a very quiet distillery that makes little noise about itself but also a distillery whose product seems to be everywhere, I'm sure there isn't a single independent bottler that hasn't had at least one cask of Ben Nevis at some point. It is a tricky distillery to call because it seems to suffer from consistency problems, some bottlings can be excellent while others range from mediocre to dire. However, its natural profile as a distillate remains quite intriguing and it is always an interesting whisky to try as it has the ability to always keep you guessing.
Founded: 1825 Stills: 2 Wash 2 Spirit Capacity: 2 Million Litres Water Source: Alt a Mhulin Owners: Nikka
1955-1971: Coffey Years.
In 1955 the then owner of Ben Nevis, Joseph Hobbs, decided to install a Coffey Still for the production of grain whisky as well as malt. This led to some very interesting experiments at the distillery in the shape of blending grain and malt spirit from the same plant as new makes and maturing them in the same cask. So Ben Nevis can claim to be one of the only distilleries (along with Lochside) to have produced a single blend whisky. The expressions that were subsequently bottled years later, such as the 1962 40yo which was a fascinatingly herbaceous, fruity, and orangey expression of Ben Nevis which lacked the usual power of its other aged malts but added something more complex and elegant, were very interesting and unusual whisky.
1971-1986: Meaty West Highland Malt.
When the distillery was sold in 1971 the Coffey still was deactivated and the distillery focused all its efforts solely on malt production once again. The spirit it produced was a rich and powerful dram, full-on highland in style with big oiliness, spice, meaty notes, some austere fruitiness, and quite harsh flinty tones as well. This style of whisky is quite difficult and readily evident in most of the bottlings, both official and independent, that was distilled in this era. They are worth seeking out as Ben Nevis can be an all too easily forgotten or overlooked spirit, but whisky from these years is often a grizzly treat. The distillery was closed for a number of years in 1986.
1991-Present: The Nikka Years.
Not much is known about the specifics of the production methods at Ben Nevis or how they changed when Nikka took over the distillery. What is certain however is that the distillate has not been quite the same since the reopening under new ownership. Ben Nevis distilled since 1991 has displayed a certain thinness in comparison to older expressions. They are marked by more obvious estery notes of pears, nail varnish, green apples, garden fruits, cereals, vegetal notes, and grassy qualities. It gives bottlings from this era more of a wild card element. The best examples can be very vibrant, fruity, and citrusy with an elegant highland oiliness and slight eccentricity. However, the worst ones taste like paint stripper and pear drops. It is a distillery with which to exercise a certain caution these days but in general, it is also a distillery that has given us many great drams over the years, and for that it will always be well worth trying.