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January 23, 2023


Whiskyfun

A Ben Nevis session de la muerte

In the still house with manager Colin Ross, 2006

 

 

In my opinion, Ben Nevis is one of the few real enthusiast's malt whiskies, a name that the general public wouldn't quite know of unless someone's been a tourist around Fort Williams. Maybe that's why most boutique whisky bottlers are making every effort to have some within their range. Not a bad idea, it's a brilliant malt indeed, easily top-ten! Let's have as many as we can, but this will be a 'solera' session,  meaning that we won't try them all in one go, as we did with Clynelish the other week. Or we would be dead… Oh and we'll do this randomly, as far as vintages or ages go. Let's kick this off from the neighbouring city of Zürich, while thinking of Colin Ross… Caution: Ben Nevis is one of my favourite Distilleries, so expect quite a few higher scores and certainly a high average, as was the case when we tried 30 Clynelishes the other week.

 

 

Ben Nevis 15 yo 1999/2014 (48.7%, COTWE Zürich, refill sherry butt, 136 bottles)

Ben Nevis 15 yo 1999/2014 (48.7%, COTWE Zürich, refill sherry butt, 136 bottles) Four stars and a half
COTWE stands for 'Confrérie de l'Ordre des Taste Whisky Ecossais', so 'Brotherhood of Scotch Whisky Tasters'. Sounds good, doesn't it. Colour: gold. Nose: I agree this is not for everyone. Metal polish + mustard + leather + rotting fruit + pepper + umami sauce, that's probably not your average 'Macallan'. Only other suspects, Fettercairn or Glenturret, in my opinion. Mouth: great fun. Orange cordial, sweet mustard, walnuts, seawater, copper, roasted pecans, caraway and juniper, toffee, walnut cake… and sauce à la diable. Finish: rather long, with some salted chocolate, coffee and old walnuts indeed. The mustardy side is back in the aftertaste. Comments: this thrilling loconess is what we like so much in Ben Nevis. I'm sure some would say it's faulty –of course it isn't, but it's a malt that's deliciously difficult. Hoppla Zürich!

SGP:372 - 88 points.

Remember, we said we'd do this randomly…

Ben Nevis 26 yo 1996/2022 (49.9%, Whisky AGE, refill butt, cask #21, 431 bottles)

Ben Nevis 26 yo 1996/2022 (49.9%, Whisky AGE, refill butt, cask #21, 431 bottles) Five stars
1996 was one of the 'better' vintages at BN, but that statement may well be related to the parcels of casks that have been made available to brokers and bottlers – or not. Colour: gold. Nose: I hate it when we start this high. Fumes, chocolate, espresso, walnuts, almonds, new books, ink… Hate it, really. With (unnecessary) water: jasmine, thyme, Benedictine, verbena. Mouth (neat): superlatively incredible. A top Pauillac made whisky. Bored, because that's what we've been expecting. Please call the Anti-Maltoporn Brigade. With (unnecessary) water: what a stunner. Pepper, smoke, chestnut purée and honey, bergamots, cigar, lemon, seawater, oyster plant, miso… To hell with all this! Finish: long, extraordinarily bouillony, with a little parmesan cheese, grapefruits, sage, sorrel, tobacco, smoke, pink grapefruit… Szechuan pepper in the aftertaste. Comments: sc**w them, they wrecked our session, already.
SGP:662 - 92 points.

Only two BNs in and a 92 already? This is a nightmare… We might need to try to avoid those mid-1990s vintages for a short while…

Ben Nevis 7 yo 2014/2022 (48.5%, Decadent Drinks, Equinox & Solstice)

Ben Nevis 7 yo 2014/2022 (48.5%, Decadent Drinks, Equinox & Solstice) Four stars
Colour: gold. Nose: fudge and mustard, lamp oil, linseed oil, paraffin, dried kelp and floated wood, ointments, fresh concrete… Mouth: salty and with touches of sherry (raisins + walnuts), plus some saltiness, soups, leather, tobacco, mustard… In short, Ben Nevis. Finish: rather long, much drier, with more pepper and cocoa powder, plus some acidic coffee, I believe the Javanese coffees are a little bit like this. Comments: obviously not in the same league (but what a 1996 that was!) but it's still doing extremely well. Very high quality/age ratio, true to the Distillery (which is what you would expect from a single malt, no?)

SGP:362 - 87 points.

Ben Nevis 9 yo 2012/2022 (50%, Thompson Bros., 11 months ex-Cromarty double-rocker, 166 bottles)

Ben Nevis 9 yo 2012/2022 (50%, Thompson Bros., 11 months ex-Cromarty double-rocker, 166 bottles)
I'm a little lost, what's an 'ex-Cromarty double-rocker'? I have no idea… Probably something related to beer… Colour: straw. Nose: tequila (?!) and fir buds, beer eau-de-vie indeed, sour bread, saponin, geranium leaves, stewed cabbage… What is this? With water: rubbers and rubbery leaves, fig leaf, geranium, ferments and yeasts… Mouth (neat): akin to Brewdog's cold-distilled beer from a few years ago. I'm sure many people will adore this, or rather have adored this, but it's not quite for me, I'm afraid. With water: nicer, with some citrus. Finish: long, funny, rubbery, fermentary, with some eggplants and Brussels sprouts. Bitters in the aftertaste, Campari and Fernet, grenadine... Comments: extraordinarily creative. But I'm out and shan't even dare scoring this most extravagant concoction by the very engaging brothers.
SGP:271 - ?? points.

Back to normality…

Ben Nevis 31 yo 1991/2022 (62.1%, Hunter Laing, Old & Rare, oloroso sherry, cask #56324, 540 bottles)

Ben Nevis 31 yo 1991/2022 (62.1%, Hunter Laing, Old & Rare, oloroso sherry, cask #56324, 540 bottles) Four stars and a half
A very high strength at 31 years of age! Colour: gold. Nose: whiffs of hard-boiled eggs for starters (sulphur) and white wine must, but it's all becoming more normal then, with dried apples, artisan mead, chalk and clay, cider and many breads, brown, white, pumpernickel, then bouillons and soups, chocolate sauce, mustard, red cabbage, leek, even horseradish… With water: leathery mustard and a new box of Cuban cigars, which is all pretty BN, we agree. And peppered marmalade. Mouth (neat): flints, wasabi and mustard, plus the strongest 'honey' sauce they have in China. And chen-pi. With water: honey and onion sauce, leek, caramel, malt extract, bitter herbs, liquorice wood and propolis (a lot of black propolis!) Finish: long, with some old Parmesan cheese and mimolette, balsamico, marmalade and thick tarry honeys. But do thick tarry honeys even exist? Comments: this is free malt whisky as in free jazz. Harmolodic whisky, shall we say; we're not afraid of dissonant whiskies, are we. I'd love to go to 90 but I'm thinking of my friends and believe it would be just impossible.
SGP:562 - 89 points.

Ben Nevis 2012/2021 (68.4%, Joecy & Or Sileis, 1st fill PX octave, cask #17368, 714 bottles)

Ben Nevis 2012/2021 (68.4%, Joecy & Or Sileis, 1st fill PX octave, cask #17368, 714 bottles) Four stars
I couldn't believe my eyes, 68.4%! Even if they fill at still strength, it's pretty high, even if it was the last octave right under the roof in a modern warehouse. Wish me luck, here I come Jesus, Mary and Joseph… Colour: light gold. Nose: model glue, as we sometimes say, plus rather a lot of plasticine, fresh almonds, kirschwasser and thuja wood. Those artisanal wooden boxes they would sell in souks, in Morocco. Some cologne too, but I wouldn't say this is extravagantly hot on the nose. With water: yess, the mustard, walnut skin, and acrid herbs coming out. Some meaty and fermentary notes too, perhaps a little Marmite. Mouth (neat): it's beyond human threshold, even if once again, you do get the feeling that you could, but you shouldn't drink it like that. Not too sure it's 68%... With water: mustard, citrons, pepper, tobacco, paraffin (crunching candles) and various leaves. Finish: long, bitter and savoury. Horseradish, bitter almonds and mustard. Comments: I wouldn't say poor PX was having the right to speak here. Very good, very young Ben Nevis, but a little hard to handle.
SGP:462 - 85 points.

Another youngster…

Ben Nevis 8 yo 2012/2021 (54%, Roger's Vintage Selection, bourbon cask, cask #2086, 330 bottles)

Ben Nevis 8 yo 2012/2021 (54%, Roger's Vintage Selection, bourbon cask, cask #2086, 330 bottles) Five stars
There's been a 6 yo 1995 under this flag that had been rather magnificent (WF 90). Colour: white wine. Nose: extremely oily, on graphite oil, lamp oil, with really a feeling of fatness. By the way it moves like oil in your glass. Other than that, we're finding sourdough bread, chalk, limoncello (again!) and the obligatory mustard. With water: raw wool, new jumper, old tweed jacket. Mouth (neat): high-power coastal arrival, full of mineral oils, green lemon, chalk and oyster shells, then a little barley syrup and a pepper + chili combination that works extremely well. And a lot of mustard and horseradish. With water: sublime sharpness, yet a very fatty mouthfeel. Gets very mineral too. Finish: very long, pure, peppery, ashy, lemony and chalky. Awesome salty aftertaste. Comments: as we often say, another Sancerre of whisky. I love it, it's exactly my favourite style. I could have gone even higher but let's hold our horses, this is an 8 yo.

SGP:462 - 90 points.

Perhaps another 1996 this time?

Ben Nevis 1996/2019 (49.7%, S Spirit Shop Selection, Taiwan, hogshead, cask #1435)

Ben Nevis 1996/2019 (49.7%, S Spirit Shop Selection, Taiwan, hogshead, cask #1435) Five stars
With a very frightening warrior on the label. Does he run on Ben Nevis? Colour: white wine. Nose: age often brings bananas and beeswax to Ben Nevis, pushing it towards Clynelish. But it is not a smoky one this time, it would even ten to move towards waxy Speysiders after a short while, let's say Caperdonich? Lighter honey, elderflowers, beeswax indeed, pollens and mead… And fewer coastal notes, of any. Feels very gentle… Mouth: oh it is glorious! It's got this Irish side, with beeswax, a little metal polish, artisan apple juice, many honeys, a lighter pepper, apple pie with cinnamon… It would tend to become saltier over time, but naturally, 'there is no salt in whisky'. It never stops getting more beautiful. Finish: rather long, let's say with some kind of Asian sauce gathering honeyed, salty, and spicy elements? You're right, like most Asian sauces, but in any case, this is beautiful. Comments: top Ben Nevis from a top vintage, made a little easier by a lower strength.

SGP:551 - 90 points.

Why not an official 1996…

Ben Nevis 21 yo 1996/2018 (55.5%, OB, for La Maison du Whisky, refill sherry butts, 1049 bottles)

Ben Nevis 21 yo 1996/2018 (55.5%, OB, for La Maison du Whisky, refill sherry butts, 1049 bottles) Four stars and a half
This is a vatting of two sherry casks. I stumbled upon this bottling for France in… lovely Warsaw. Colour: full gold. Nose: the keyword here is 'refill', which great news. Not much work to do here (work?) as the very first notes of sunflower and sesame oils just give it away: stunner alert. We'll just mention old-school apples (from the vicar's garden) and peppery mustard. With water: some medicinal notes, bandages, also pencil shavings, almonds and walnuts, a feeling of fino… Mouth (neat): oh! Dried apples this time, Canadian late-harvest apple wine, less mustard and more cigars, salted lemon liqueur, cinnamon mints, etcetera. With water: tart and yet unexpectedly fruity, with also unexpected notes of wine gums and jellies (blueberry big time!) This comes all a little unexpected indeed, with rather less of Ben Nevis' cutting edge profile, but it remains very marvellous. Marmalade with a little cinnamon in the background. Finish: rather long, fruity, with some ganache, I would suppose that's the sherry. And, err, raspberry jam in the aftertaste? Just a tiny bit of that. Comments: terrific, just a notch 'lower' than the brighter, more natural ones in my book. Sherry with big distillates is always a complicated match, but we're rambling on and on now… .
SGP:651 - 89 points.

Ben Nevis 25 yo 1995/2021 (47.9% Single Malt Dreams, bourbon hogshead, cask #962, 221 bottles)

Ben Nevis 25 yo 1995/2021 (47.9% Single Malt Dreams, bourbon hogshead, cask #962, 221 bottles) Five stars
From Norway's first independent bottlers! Colour: straw. Nose: once again this feeling of noising oil at first (sunflower, grape), these whiffs of mustard and tobacco, firm honey, candlewax, limoncello, a few roots (celeriac), some chalk… Nutshell, it's is classic Ben Nevis from a classic vintage. Oh and it's displaying nutshells too. Mouth: just it, once more. Pepper, stone dust, mustard, bitter oranges, lemon, waxes, white pepper, some sage perhaps… It would tend to become a little sweeter over a minute, which is a good development, obviously. Finish: still a little dry and bitter, but that works just beautifully here. Grapefruit skin, more mustard, more horseradish, more celeriac, cinnamon lozenges… Comments: it is a little challenging at times, but a taster (perhaps not a casual boozer) loves a good challenge. Perfect natural Ben Nevis from those years. No saltiness this time.

SGP:452 - 90 points.

Back to official 'sherries'…

Ben Nevis 15 yo 1998/2013 (56.1%, OB, fresh sherry butt, cask #586, 595 bottles)

Ben Nevis 15 yo 1998/2013 (56.1%, OB, fresh sherry butt, cask #586, 595 bottles) Four stars
According to the label, the good folk at Ben Nevis considered this one ready for bottling in October, 2013. RIP Colin Ross! Colour: amber. Nose: I find these ones always a little more difficult, as the 'mustard' from the distillate and the 'walnut skins' from the sherry would just kind of amplify each other, sometimes creating feelings of 'sulphur', as is the case now. It's Plant and Page, really, and they're having their faithful Marshall amplifiers (well, I think). Burnt wood, burnt leaves, burnt 'other things'. Some chestnut honey in the aftertaste while there are burnt chestnut as well). With water: some soapiness, then that fades away, then we have more roasted chestnuts, meat, truffled sausage, cracked pepper, acidic coffees… Mouth (neat): big, sweeter and really spicier when neat, this one too would go well with spicy Thai food. Well, it is almost spicy Thai food. With water: there, the fruits are coming out (basically, oranges) but boy is this one spicy! And leathery at that… Finish: long, bitter and spicy, but some honeyed walnut cake or something would make it more civilised in the end. Cinnamon mints in the aftertaste. Comments: this one was some fighter! But I think it suffered from the comparison with the fresher ones.
SGP:362 - 85 points.

Ben Nevis 25 yo 1996/2021 (52.1%, Wilson & Morgan, oloroso sherry finish, casks #1819/20, 504 bottles)

Ben Nevis 25 yo 1996/2021 (52.1%, Wilson & Morgan, oloroso sherry finish, casks #1819/20, 504 bottles) Four stars and a half
Colour: gold. Nose: phew! It was a light finish; they've not gagged this splendid well-aged Ben Nevis from a great vintage. Even if it is a softer one, more on pine honey, light raisins, moss, mushrooms, poached peaches and pears… I especially enjoy all this humus, it's like having a stroll in the woods after the rain. There's also a little pipe tobacco, while we really appreciate that this was oloroso and not PX. With water: more earth yet! And pine needles, compost, more mushrooms, pine bark… Mouth (neat): wonderful, I really get why they've done this finish that really worked out. I remember there used to be some energy bars that were gathering walnuts, oranges and honey, but the name escapes me. I'm also finding pink pepper, Szechuan, Timut… I'm a sucker for this too. With water: some saltiness and oranges, wax, more bitter dried fruits. More bitterness. Finish: long, on pepper, bitter citrus and herbs. Propolis and a few bitter tannins. Comments: we were almost at 90, until the finish that we found a tiny tad too bitterish. Still a wonderful oloroso-finished Ben Nevis.
SGP:462 - 89 points.

Back to the youngsters, with The Sponge… (The Sponge himself remains a youngster!)

Ben Nevis 7 yo 2014/2022 'N.A.S' (57.1%, Decadent Drinks, 2nd fill sherry butt)

Ben Nevis 7 yo 2014/2022 'N.A.S' (57.1%, Decadent Drinks, 2nd fill sherry butt) Four stars and a half
Reduced to 100°proof UK. This is in the newest within the Notable Age Statement series, that statement being, as I understand it, that whichever the age, young or old, it's always worth mentioning and knowing of. Colour: gold. Nose: a tad modern, in that sense that there's a little toffee and butterscotch that ought to stem from some wood that was actively, err, active, but beyond that, the spirit just speaks out. Mustards, fresh walnuts, paraffin, that horseradish and wasabi, sesame oil, perhaps some cough lozenges… With water: drops of cold bouillon, some chalk, perhaps nori… Mouth (neat): absolutely excellent. Peppered butterscotch with some coffee, pipe tobacco and some salted raisins. With water: wonderful saltiness, soups, marrow, escargots (hi!) and sourer pepper sauce. Oh and mustard. Finish: rather long, with a little chocolate. Totally Ben Nevis. Comments: the age doesn't obligatorily matter as such, but it is consubstantial to, well, to any aged spirits, by definition, and hiding it is just a nasty sleight of hands, or often just lying by omission.

SGP:462 - 89 points.

Back to the mid-nineties…

Ben Nevis 25 yo 1996/2022 (53.1%, The Whisky Jury, refill hogshead, cask #1349, 183 bottles)

Ben Nevis 25 yo 1996/2022 (53.1%, The Whisky Jury, refill hogshead, cask #1349, 183 bottles) Five stars
There is no reason… Colour: pale gold. Nose: exactly on sunflower oil, candlewax, softer mustard, tangerine liqueur, sourdough, croissants, marzipan, then a wee mango, custard, more marzipan, some mustard sauce rather than plain mustard (say sauce à la diable – the devil's sauce)… In fact, it is a softer one, perhaps better polished, perhaps more for the city than for the country. Let's dig deeper…  With water: it's 'doing a 1972!' Honeys, beeswax, dried fruits, Clynelish, Glen Grant, Caperdonich, HP… Mouth (neat): wasn't it rather an ex-1960s Bowmore cask? It is bursting with mangos and maracuja, while the peppers and mustards would rather act as some seasoning agents. Perhaps a tad less 'BN', but it is stunning for sure. With water: what a hoggie. Caramel cream, vanilla, mango jam, papaya, passion fruit, juicy fruit, all-vitamin fruit juice… Finish: medium, extraordinarily fruity. Comments: really, I find this one a little un-Ben-Nevis, at least softer and fruitier than its compadres, but it is absolutely not schmalzy, it's only way, way too drinkable. I recommend you bury your bottle in the garden, next to the gold lingots.
SGP:751 - 91 points.

What was that? Another try…

Ben Nevis 26 yo 1996/2022 (48.5%, The Whisky Jury, for Asia, refill hogshead, cask #522, 257 bottles)

Ben Nevis 26 yo 1996/2022 (48.5%, The Whisky Jury, for Asia, refill hogshead, cask #522, 257 bottles) Five stars
Colour: straw. Nose: where can we lodge a complaint? This is not Ben Nevis, this is Clynelish. I am not joking. Well, I am, but by billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles in a thundering typhoon, what happened? Good, indeed, if you give it a tiny portion of your most precious time, you'll find a little pepper and mustard that do not quite belong to Clynelish. But other than that… Mouth: crikey, they've added some old Balblair. Same comment, only wee bits of bits of salty and costal mustard will confirm that this 'could' be Ben Nevis indeed. Finish: medium long and, phew, indeed, chalkier, more peppery, more on bitter herbs and sorrel soup (perhaps). Seawater and one mussel in the aftertaste. Comments: what-was-that? Please burry this one next to cask #1349 and use the gold lingots to buy more bottles.

SGP:561 - 92 points.

Seriously, those two were possibly the most treacherously drinkable Ben Nevisses ever, which makes them extra-dangerous. In general, the good thing with Ben Nevis is that they can be flabbergasting, but often a tad, say 'difficult' and to be drunk parsimoniously . Oh forget about that, let's move on…

Ben Nevis 19 yo 1998/2018 (51.5%, Whisky-Fässle, hogshead)

Ben Nevis 19 yo 1998/2018 (51.5%, Whisky-Fässle, hogshead) Four stars and a half
Our favourite ducks are back on Whiskyfun. Colour: white wine. Nose: we're back! Chalk, lamp oil, wool, green pepper, ink, mustard, sage, even a little glue, a touch of acetone… With water: more chalk yet, new sweater, new Brora cashmere (LOL), cut grass, linseed oil and paraffin… Mouth (neat): yeah, a greasy, peppery, bitterish, leafier Ben Nevis, with a feeling of crunching grape pips and biting into a grapefruit. With water: fresh breads, lemons, chalk indeed, Sancerre, thyme honey in the background… Finish: long, oily, more on lemons and waxes. Some sourness. A lot of limestone in the aftertaste; don't you sometimes lick rocks when visiting vineyards? You should! Comments: pure Ben Nevis this time, and what a marvellous middle-aged example indeed. The ducks they are working good.

SGP:462 - 88 points.

A much older bottling now, perhaps, just to gain more historical perspective. Let's make it a BN that was bottled, rather than distilled, in 1996. You're right, how time flies!…

Ben Nevis 18 yo 1977/1996 (57.4%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection)

Ben Nevis 18 yo 1977/1996 (57.4%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection) Four stars and a half
What's really good with this series is that they've never, as far as I can tell, tried to pump-up the juices using any 'active' wood (a.k.a. legal flavouring). In short, it's malt whisky as nature intended, sometimes utterly brilliant, sometimes pure kerosene. Colour: pale gold. Nose: typical. Bananas, grass, limoncello, metal polish, Japanese roasted tea, wholegrain bread, curry rather than mustard… In short it's close, but different. With water: some banana wine, some old books, old humidor, chicken soup, raw rum, mashed turnips… In short it's going in all directions. Mouth (neat): hey wonderful! Fat, peppery, with a very oily mouth feel and rather a lot of 'sweet bitterness', some Läckerli, some speculoos, some copper… It's wilder than the newer ones, probably with a lower definition as well. More curry, caraway, gin (I know)… With water: excellent, better focused if I may say so, more on mead and honeyed sauces and juices, sweet wines that went a little too old, raisins… Finish: medium, with a curious fruitiness, wine gum, jelly babies and all that. Some kind of sweet spice mix in the aftertaste. Comments: another superb one, even if it as missing a little focus. In all directions indeed, but isn't that pretty 'BN' anyway?

SGP:551 - 88 points.

Perhaps another older vintage…

Ben Nevis 15 yo 1984/2000 (63%, Blackadder, sherry oak, cask #255, 244 bottles)

Ben Nevis 15 yo 1984/2000 (63%, Blackadder, sherry oak, cask #255, 244 bottles) Three stars
Why are finishes always 'lingering' on whisky labels? But it's a joy to try this, cheers Robin! BTW I had tried a 1984/2002 that had been a tad difficult (WF 80), but that was nine years ago and that's bygones… Colour: amber. Nose: old sherry and Ben Nevis! Roasted nuts, chestnuts, marmalade, orange squash, burnt butter, gas, truffles and struck matches. Pretty particular. With water: pink bananas do manage to come out! Notes of mangoes in the middle distance, plus old walnuts and lime tea. Mouth (neat): bites you at 63% vol. Rum and raisins, chocolate, concrete dust, chalk, ink, orange zests, a feeling of scoria, some soot, some dirtiness, some leather… With water: what, fish? Sardines? Olives? Tar? Cole black tea? What a bizarre Ben Nevis… But it's having its charms and knows it (what?) Finish: rather long, on leather and orange juice. Dome dissonances, shall we say. Comments: great fun but you need to keep an open mind.

SGP:562 - 82 points.

More funny sherry (perhaps)…

Ben Nevis 26 yo 1990/2017 (60.5%, Signatory Vintage for Velier's 70th Anniversary, La Première Fois, sherry butt, cask #1507, 644 bottles)

Ben Nevis 26 yo 1990/2017 (60.5%, Signatory Vintage for Velier's 70th Anniversary, La Première Fois, sherry butt, cask #1507, 644 bottles) Four stars and a half
Well, 'La Première Fois' means 'The First Time' while in French literature, it's usually referring to the first time any human being would, well, meet with another human being, generally of the other sex, and, well, you see what I mean, what needs to happen happens... But I'm not sure that's got anything to do with either Signatory, or Velier, or Ben Nevis. Colour: gold. Nose: the age feels but that's charming, with rather sour fruits, apples, pears, quinces, figs, then we have rather a lot of beeswax, furniture polish, with a little earth in the distance and some very elegant Meursaultness (I'm afraid I'll need to apologise again). Mead. With water: some varnish coming out, but that's not unseen with Ben Nevis. Otherwise some vanilla and some sultanas, moderately. Mouth (neat): superb, firm, slightly 'peaty', with great peppers of all kinds and various dried fruits, figs first. Did they distil figs? (nah, raw fig spirit tends to be lousy, believe me I've tried to distil some quite a while back). With water: there was something with figs, honestly. Also citrons and kumquats, then more and more pepper, even ginger, and Meursault. I keep mentioning Meursault, hoping that a case of Comtes Lafon or Mikulski would arrive but that hasn't happened to this day. Coche? Forget about Coche, it's so 2010s… Finish: yes, perfect, with tiny herbs and even flowers. Honeysuckle, mullein… Some spicier olive oil in the aftertaste, coming unexpected, as well as some sourer wood and a slightly winey side in the end of the aftertaste. Comments: yes, more of these please.
SGP:651 - 89 points.

Ben Nevis 2013/2022 (48%, Signatory Vintage for LMDW Singapore 15th Anniversary, 1st fill sherry butt finish, cask #15)

Ben Nevis 2013/2022 (48%, Signatory Vintage for LMDW Singapore 15th Anniversary, 1st fill sherry butt finish, cask #15) Four stars and a half
For once, let's hear from the bottlers: "This is part of the 'Robertson Quay' range featuring a detailed zoomed-in map of this iconic Singapore location. The name of the range comes from the map displayed on the label, honouring the neighbourhood where La Maison du Whisky has, since 2006, established its flagship Asian storefront." Alright then! Colour: amber with brown/red hues. Nose: chocolate and cedarwood at first, chicory coffee too (do they get that in Singapore?), stock cube, then something that's not too common at WF towers, slow-cooked leg of lamb, tajine, Mars bar… And then the expected walnuts, more chocolate, and more coffee. Some copper (old kettle). No water needed. Mouth: the Ben-Nevisness is more obvious on the palate. Dark chocolate, old walnuts and pepper/mustard in the arrival, then salty bouillons and a handful of small black bone-dry raisins. Some pipe tobacco, mussels, a little clay, more coffee, some umaminess… The distillate just takes over after fifteen seconds in your mouth. Finish: long. Could we settle on lamb chorba with some Mexican chocolate sauce or would that be too… disruptive? Comments: the sherried officials and the sherried indies (whether full sherry or finishing) remain pretty different. Bizarrely, the indies are somewhat cleaner, in my humble opinion. This one's excellent and you don't even need to toy with a pipette or a teaspoon.
SGP:552 - 89 points.

 

BTW, today the 'tunnel' is pretty narrow as far as scores are concerned, that's because Ben Nevis is a brilliant distillate that, even when it's bad, is good. I know what I'm trying to say. Oh and don't get me started again on 'using or not using the whole scope' from 0 to 100 points (or %), that old chestnut… The 'range' was not established by our ancestors to address only Ben Nevis, or even only malt whiskies, but to score any theoretically swallowable spirits, from, say Tequila Rose or Fireball to Laphroaig 1967 or Brora 1972. At least that's how we're using it at WF. By the way, we may well soon try a 100-tickler that very, very few people have tasted until now, but shh… In the meantime, more Ben Nevis please…

 

Ben Nevis 21 yo 1990/2012 (59.8%, OB, refill hogshead and Port bodega butt, cask #3/104, 825 bottles)

Ben Nevis 21 yo 1990/2012 (59.8%, OB, refill hogshead and Port bodega butt, cask #3/104, 825 bottles) Four stars
I remember they were pretty proud of these rather 'un-Japanese' combinations when we once visited the Distillery, around 2005, and that they were willing to make more of these. This very one was transferred to a Port butt in 2003, so it's real double-maturation, not quick and dirty flavour… I mean finishing. Now, Port being Port… Colour: dark rosé wine, or rather 'oeil de perdrix' (the colour of a partridge's eye). Nose: not too sure, honestly. I know strawberries with pepper remains fashionable but in this very case, it's a little dissonant. Same with redcurrant jam with metal polish, raspberries with rubber or cassis leaves with mud. Unless, with water… With water: it's funny that water would really work as a binding agent after all these years. A better feeling of wholeness, more on pipe tobacco, juniper berries, mutton soup, chen-pi, soy sauce, fig leaves… In short, it became more 'BN'. Mouth (neat): leather with blood oranges, tobacco with prickly pears, coffee with mangos… With water: got to love water. Lovely blood oranges, heather honey, figs… Finish (with water): pretty long, jammy, on more figs, pink grapefruits, prunes… Only the aftertaste is a little musty/muddy, with hints of rotting strawberries… with this pepper. Comments: rescued by water! Not the first time this happens, having said that. A 'funny' expression in my book.

SGP:762 - 85 points.

Ben Nevis 7 yo 2014/2022 (61%, The Nectar of The Daily Drams and LMDW, second fill sherry butt, 400 bottles)

Ben Nevis 7 yo 2014/2022 (61%, The Nectar of The Daily Drams and LMDW, second fill sherry butt, 400 bottles) Four stars and a half
Another super-youngster from Fort Williams cooked with active sherry wood. This recipe has worked before, it should work again here. Colour: gold. Nose: wood varnish and nail polish, not something that we weren't expecting. Then chocolate and stout (or Belgian dunkel, right), then beeswax and stronger honeys (those chestnut and heather that we keep mentioning every other day) as well as some pollen. And then, just dumpers of chocolate and toffee. It is liquid chocolate. With water: some medicinal notes, bandages, tincture of iodine, also a little thyme oil, and even a feeling of mizunara, but obviously, no one's used any mizunara oak here. Mouth (neat): some roots, smokes and earths that remind us of other distillates, plus some tarter citrus, yuzu, bitter oranges, some brine… And always quite some chocolate. It feels a bit like if the former content of this butt was a peater, but if that was the case indeed, that really worked. With water: more of that feeling. Now it's true that Ben Nevis did some peated batches too. Finish: long, zesty, cleaner that your usual BN, perhaps sleeker. Comments: some excellent peated Ben Nevis – whether that peat was in the distillate or in the cask.

SGP:564 - 88 points.

Can we have bourbon? I mean, ex-bourbon BN?

Ben Nevis 8 yo 2012/2021 (59.9%, Golden Cask for The Whisky Barrel, bourbon barrel, cask #278, 315 bottles)

Ben Nevis 8 yo 2012/2021 (59.9%, Golden Cask for The Whisky Barrel, bourbon barrel, cask #278, 315 bottles) Four stars
Colour: pale white wine. Nose: back to nature, with a few embers, the salty wind howling on top of Ben Nevis, some small wildflowers, some paraffin, some dry and mineral oils, our limoncello, some damp limestone and pebbles, today's rainwater in the old bucket, in the garden, herbs and fern… With water: grass and chalk, plus some fresh paint and some glue. No further development, on the contrary. A bad swimmer on the west coast? Mouth (neat): high-precision, totally distillate-driven young Ben Nevis that's even still got its pears and pineapples. From youth. Then chalky lemons and elderberry syrup. With water: some wonderful chalky citrus! Well, what water didn't do to it on the nose, it does on your palate. Thick and profound citrusy liqueurs, both old-school and for yuccies – but aren't yuccies out already? Finish: long, ultra-citrusy, clean, liqueury. Comments: a notch simpler that the good sherried youngsters, but hugely drinkable. Insane fruitiness.

SGP:751 - 87 points.

More than just a sister cask, this is a twin cask:

Ben Nevis 8 yo 2012/2021 (59.9%, Golden Cask for The Whisky Barrel, bourbon barrel, cask #277, 257 bottles)

Ben Nevis 8 yo 2012/2021 (59.9%, Golden Cask for The Whisky Barrel, bourbon barrel, cask #277, 257 bottles) Four stars
Colour: pale white wine. Nose: fascinating differences. This is more on vegetal oils, paraffin, broken branches, drawing gum, linseed oil… With water: antirust, putty, stewed cauliflowers…  Mouth (neat): less expressive than cask #278, more on brake fluid and leaves. No citrus extravaganza yet. With water: hurray for water! Chalky citrus once more, limoncello, wax, also granny smith… Finish: pretty long, a tad less bright and immediate than its twin at this stage. Comments: both have been rather easier Ben Nevisses, without the metallic/mustardy side of the make, but they were clearly different. #278 was more spectacularly fruity when watered down. A blend of both (of course we tried) works very well and would be closer to #278, with just more tight grassiness.
SGP:551 - 85 points.

Ben Nevis 24 yo 1996/2021 (55%, WhiskySponge, refill hogshead, 153 bottles)

Ben Nevis 24 yo 1996/2021 (55%, WhiskySponge, refill hogshead, 153 bottles) Five stars
This was part of a 'triptych', as the greatest masters of Renaissance painting used to do (that'll be a beer, Sponge), but I believe I've missed it all and, in any case, I'm way too late with this one. Having said that, by rule and since some have asked again, we never try any of The Sponge's bottlings while they're still available. Which, between us, is very easy to do as they tend to sell like drones to the Russians. Colour: light gold. Nose: another 1996, another majestic nose, extremely elegant, firm, with superb waxes and these small mustardy notes that are so entrancing. Asparagus and fresh bark, sunflower oil… With water: chalk, wool, new tweed, peppermint, eucalyptus, cough lozenges..; What a nose. Mouth (neat): what can I say? Stones, mustard, horseradish, leaves, tobacco, peppers, grapefruits, 'resinous' honeys, plasticine, vanilla, drop of guava liqueur… The mouth feel is perfect. With water: that saltiness chiming in, anchovies in brine, oysters, small yellow olives, pickled citrus… But some coating honey keep it sweet and (relatively) easy. Finish: perhaps not that long but I adore these anchovies. Comments: tja, 1996 plus refill. Noah's own. Remember he'll take HP, Clynelish, Ben Nevis and Springbank. Not too sure he'll take all their people, having said that, especially the marketing people. I mean, probably not all of them (peace, love, smile).
SGP:562 - 91 points.

Ben Nevis 25 yo 1996/2022 (53%, WhiskySponge, refill butt, 348 bottles)

Ben Nevis 25 yo 1996/2022 (53%, WhiskySponge, refill butt, 348 bottles) Three stars and a half
Colour: whitest white wine. Nose: 5 years old, not 25, right? Fresh paint, green pears, apple peel and washing powder. Something may have happened, or rather not happened with this one. Let's try to find out… With water: a pile of old jumpers just back from the laundry. Mouth (neat): I think I understand, it's a 'palate' whisky, even if this remains ultra-green and acidic. Many green fruits, none too ripe, plus some glue. In theory, I love this uncompromising style, but in practice, I believe this was rather destined to end its life in a Scottish daiquiri, no? With water: ah, at last, civilisation, in the form of lemon syrup, lemonade and Fanta Lemon Zero (apologies). There's clearly more Ben-Nevisness as well, with these anchovies, olives, wasabi, green mustard, chalk… Finish: long, better. Let's call it a chalky limoncello. Leafier and saltier aftertaste. Comments: we'll call this one 'the misunderstood Ben Nevis'. Perhaps was it for intellectuals only? Seriously, I believe this one took the death seat after its more than brilliant predecessor. And 83 remains a high score.

SGP:462 - 83 points.

Ben Nevis 26 yo 1996/2022 (50.1%, WhiskySponge, refill hogshead, 213 bottles)

Ben Nevis 26 yo 1996/2022 (50.1%, WhiskySponge, refill hogshead, 213 bottles) Five stars
This one's about highballs and Japan, apparently. Colour: old. Nose: all right, it's a tropical Ben Nevis and it is full of wax. This is an example of the best of the better 1996s, in my humblest opinion, a taster wouldn't even need to move any further, as this nose says it all. Rose petals, mangos, custard, marzipan, sweet mustard, fresh nuts, and a lot of elegance and restraint. A beauty this far… With (a single drop of) water: more stuff harvested and made by the bees. Save the bees! My father was a beekeeper, by the way. Mouth (neat): so easy, so immediate, so perfect. More beeswax and pollen, Clynelish (yep), passion fruits, citrons… Let's keep this short. With water: totally grand. Balance is perfect. Absent-minded whisky lovers will believe that, indeed, this is Clynelish. Finish: same. However, there's a salty/spicy firmness in the distance that keeps it firmly on the west coast and that reminds you that this is Ben Nevis, not Clynelish. Comments: extraordinary, even if it's a pretty unchallenging drop. Power to all whisky drinkers!

SGP:651 - 92 points.

Ben Nevis

 

The next one – and today's last – will be our 500th Ben Nevis. Not that it matters too much, I agree…

Ben Nevis 23 yo (48%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, 558 bottles, 2019)

Ben Nevis 23 yo (48%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, 558 bottles, 2019) Four stars and a half
Most certainly some mid to late 1900s juice in there, perhaps even a single vintage (perhaps 1996!). Colour: gold. Nose: I find this one extremely chalky at first sniffs,  while candied citrus and yellow fruits (plums perhaps) would then get in and create a more civilised composition, a little less rustic than other Ben Nevisses that we love so much (some friends say that I can be rustic too). Bergamot sweets, some herbal/floral notes (borage), then a little caramel cream, gentian and mocha. So, a relatively gentle Ben Nevis but with all its attributes. Pretty gorgeous on the nose. Mouth: just to contradict me, a few dusty/dirty notes at first, some pepper right from the start, and only then some rounder, sweeter, more candied notes of crystallised tropical fruit and dried citrus. Bits of zests, with some saltiness too. Nah, in fact it's a typically robust Ben Nevis on your palate. Even some prickly mustard is there. Finish: long, peppery, with more dirty oils. No spent frying oil, though… Very peppery aftertaste. Comments: excellent and somewhat drinkable, another pretty dazzling Ben Nevis as our #500 tasting note.
SGP:652 - 89 points.

(Thanks to the BOW team in Poland, to Carlos, to KC and to everyone else)

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