So for awhile now I have been on and off with Ben Nevis. I hard heard of variation in what you got, that it was big in Japan (so you were competing with richer, more experienced whisky nerds), and that sometimes, just sometimes, it didn’t really work.
So when I was told that we could have a Ben Nevis as a future pick for Toronto Whisky Society, I wasn’t totally enthused. However I was told that in 1996 there was a change in ownership and the quality had become the main driving force.
And then everyone else found out about that, and as anyone who just finished economics 101 and actually listened will tell you, demand made price go high. So we couldn’t.
But I was intrigued. So I started watching for Ben Nevisan (I think I have the Gaelic plural correct there), and found a few. Some have been reviewed, but I really got behind on writing with a new job and school and all that.
So I reviewed the samples, at different times, and thought “Why not do a massive multi-review?” And the answer is usually I ramble and people don’t read them because they’re too long.
Well here you go anyway. I’ll try to keep each one brief.
Let’s see if my search was for naught, shall we?
Ben Nevis 19 1997 Jack Wiebers Old Train Line
I like train iconography. Probably because I grew up with it around the house. Also because I’m not Asian and it doesn’t have scary ramifications for me. Thus, I’m a fan of Jack Weibers. Oh, and he picks some nice whiskies every so often too.
Thus we start with the youngest after the quality shake-up. Was 1996 a fluke? Is trying one whisky from outside that time a way to prove that? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: N/A at the LCBO
Cask Type: Bourbon Cask
Cask Number: 605
Number of bottles: 291
Colour: 10Y 9/6
Nose: Pineapple cake, cream, ginger syrup, gum drops, banana, spiced white Sangria
Immediate complexity. Quite powerful. Big ginger, tropical/sweet fruit notes. Some funk with water from the banana, and this odd white wine/spiced thing. I really had a hard time explaining it, and the best me and my wife could come up with is white wine Sangria but with spice?
Yeah, we’re yuppies, why do you ask?
So taking a step away from an awkward, hard to explain complex flavour, imagine lots of fruit, balanced dryness, heating spice and a bit of funk fruit to round it all out. That’s what this nose is.
Taste: Lemongrass, olive oil cake, banana, S’mores, white pepper, cinnamon, pineapple candy
It keeps jumping between earthy, non sweet and super “Holy shit you have a sweet tooth” sweet. Very unique, odd flavours, hard to describe. It’s tropical, earthy, some spice, some candy notes. Very nice.
Finish: Grassy, banana, oatmeal cookies, dry pear, rich buttery shortbread, cumin
Long finish. Gets a bit more believable at this point, less “oh no one is going to take a review like this seriously” levels, but still really buttery and earthy.
Conclusion: Unique, very flavourful, and constantly evolving. It’s odd at times, but the whole thing works really well together. It’s hard to explain without really breaking it all down, and that’s the kind of dram that I really like.
Would you like this? Maybe, if you enjoy desserts or if you really enjoy non dessert desserts. Does that make sense? Like those ones that aren’t that sweet. The whole thing was really nice to sip on. Well worth the purchase.
Thanks to /u/Orehnmadgib for pouring me this sample.
Ben Nevis 21 1996 Hunter Laing – Old Malt Cask is up next. Should it be in the lineup? Let me explain. Wait, I don’t want to ramble too much. Let me sum it all up.
Right now Old Malt Cask is an independent bottler that, due to many reasons, brings out whiskies that won’t cost you an arm and a leg but you certainly wouldn’t swap an arm and a leg to try.
So where does that leave Old Malt Cask? There’s certainly some tasty whiskies from them. But the others Ben Nevisan on this list are from independent bottlers that command higher premiums, don’t water down their dram, etcetera.
But not everyone gets to try all of these, so we should try what we got, if not for me, then for the people. So I added it. It’s 21 years in a refill hogshead, and from the same big dick energy quality year. Let’s see how it holds up, shall we?
Price: N/A at the LCBO
Cask Number: HL14287
Cask Type: Refill Hogshead
Number of bottles: 318
Colour: 7.5Y 9/6
Nose: Molasses, caramel cake, brine, rhubarb, herbal
Initial element is quite raw. Molasses, some raw flour that develops into cake, some brine, some earth/sweetness. I keep looking for 21 years of complexity and getting raw flavours.
Taste: Brine, melon, tobacco (spicy, herbal), molasses, mint, caramel Salty, bit of melon and eventually some herbal/tobacco notes. I’m not the biggest tobacco fan, so I try and describe it as best I can, so apologies there.
Again, raw sorta side notes. Nothing is taking the main spot. I almost think the melon is going to and then it just kinda falls off the map.
Finish: Lemon curd, mushroom funk, powdered ginger, fresh bread, floral
Almost get something going here with the funk and the fresh bread. Like we’re approaching a level of core flavours, or something that can take it across the finish line.
Nearly gets there.
Conclusion: All sides, no main courses. It’s less complex than I’d like, but still plays around a lot with fruit and earth, has some fun with herbal notes, and overall wasn’t a rough dram. But it also loses you easily like a paranoid criminal losing a tail. It just doesn’t have anything to grip onto like a glass building.
The finish won me over somewhat, however, was it enough? I don’t know. I wouldn’t be angry with a bottle of this, but if I had bought it over others in this multi-review or even others I’ve had before, I’d feel a bit let down.
So I’m doing a bunch of Ben Nevis, and I’m annoyed because I have to leave my lovely, comfortable home to go to a whisky tasting. It’s a rough life.
What do I have to start said Maltbarn tasting event? Why Ben Nevis 21 1997 Maltbarn, which fits right in here. Suffice to say we had a great time.
But how did the Maltbarn do? We’ve read about the Epitome in a previous, and I loved it. Let’s see, shall we?
Price: Sold out
Cask Type: Bourbon Cask
Number of bottles: 142
Colour: 7.5Y 9/6
Nose: Brown sugar, light grapefruit, pear, cereal, hay, floral
Starts a bit lighter than previous Nevisan I’ve been having. I get a bit worried, which I shouldn’t, that somehow this will be something else. Ben Nevis can be meaty or it can be floral. This is leaning towards floral.
Taste: Green apple, cloves, butter, brisket, honey
Ah, there. It wakes up right from the start with some acidity and spicy. And there’s meat? I act surprised but I’m actually really happy. It goes from being a floral thing to a meaty thing.
Nothing is really pushing the limits, but nothing is angering me either.
Finish: Graham cracker, mineral/salty, vanilla-floral, mint, canned pear
And again we have Ben Nevis saving the best for the finish. More cereal/honey notes. Less meatiness.
Balanced. That’s the best part of this, with heat balanced by floral, sweet balanced by mineral.
Conclusion: Meaty-Floral came up while reviewing this one. The presenter preferred the more floral kind of Ben Nevis, which this nearly was. I preferred the meatier type, because I eat meat like it helps the planet (fun fact, it doesn’t!). Some prefer the floral type. This stradles that line, like that’s it’s kink, and remember rule number 1: No kink shaming.
However by doing everything it never really hones in on the complexity of other similarly aged Ben Nevisan. I can see many fans of Glenfiddich enjoying this one, as it’s a more interesting version of their standard malts.
Thanks to /u/devoz for this sample, I think? He was bugging me to catch up.
Ben Nevis 24 1991 Signatory Cask Strength, and we’re before the change up. Back when it was a chance you took, but on the flip side they were typically cheaper.
Now with the change we’ve had these jump in price. Are they still good? Did someone throw out all of the old stuff? Are we, the morons who buy whisky blindly being had? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: Sold out
Cask Number: 3834
Cask Type: Sherry Butt
Number of bottles: 585
Colour: 5Y 8/6
Nose: Fresh pineapple, daffodils, raw ginger, banana milk, pomello, grassy
Immediate powerful acidic and tropical hit, followed by another hit of floral and raw pure heat/spice. Nothing subtle. Bold. Earthy.
Bunch of fake banana and cream here. It’s screaming at me that it’s worthy even though it wasn’t made “in the golden years” and I’m uncomfortable and looking around.
Taste: Candied ginger, lemon, wood, pineapple, butter, violets
Less intense than the nose, but still pretty strong. Has a lot of sweet and acidic notes, then goes really simple for a bit. Really jarring after the nose. Still lots of pineapple, and water brings out more of the complexity similar to the nose.
Finish: Pine, menthol, nectarine, mint/rapini, pancetta
Long finish. Huge bitter, strong, pine laden and fatty finish. Just a bit of meatiness at the end, comes back to the previous one.
Conclusion: Bold, earthy, lovely dram. This is similar to the Maltbarn in that it stradles the floral and meatiness aspects, though tends towards more of those tropical fruit-floral side, which I appreciate. That all said, wow it’s brash. This isn’t subtle in the least. You aren’t finding anything hidden or complex. It’s right there in the spotlight, screaming at you about your ex and that time you thought you could juggle and broke mom’s favourite figurine.
I enjoyed this, however I don’t know if I could handle more than one. I’m glad it’s the only dram I had time for that evening, because holy shit it’d’ve blown anything else out of the water. Strong, powerful dram to save to end a tasting or for special occasions.
Thanks to /u/Orehnmadgib for the sample.
Ben Nevis 26 1991 Signatory Vintage Cask Strength is up next. So we’re continuing on this idea of pre-better-iz-ation of the process, still taking risks, still sticking with Signatory cause I like them, and still the one, still going strong.
Wait, where am I? Oh, writing in cottage country always has the oldies hitting my brain, again and again.
So we keep going. Will this mirror the last one? It’s similar aged and everything, right? Well all that glitters isn’t gold. Just look at Gary Glitter.
Wait, let’s just drink the damn whisky, shall we?
Price: Sold out
Cask Number: 2378
Cask Type: Sherry Butt
Number of Bottles: 598
Colour: 10Y 8/8
Nose: Daisies, peaches, strawberries, cinnamon, lemon sorbet, dirt
Ok, floral. We’re getting used to this. Nice stone fruit, some strawberries. Gets a bit more earthy and spicy with time, that’s ok. Alright, takes over as time goes on, gets a bit more acidic/sweet… Then there’s dirt.
Wait, how did we end up here? We’re like Flower in the flower garden but we lined to hard in and didn’t find a lady skunk, we just found the ground. And then said hello to the ground.
Taste: Lemon curd, caramel, brine, hard candy, earthy/gravel, guava
Sour and acidic. Not the most fun notes to start off but here we are. Goes a bit sweeter, balances itself out with some salt. Water starts bringing on candy sugar, so it’s devolving a bit.
Then we’re back in the dirt again, with rough gravel parts and somehow tropical fruit? I’m so confused. One second this whisky loves me, the next it really doesn’t.
Finish: Lemongrass, grapefruit pith, lime, floral chocolate, caramel, heat
And more of the same. That great mix of grass and lemon, followed by pure hatred of that is grapefruit pith.
It’s really hard to get past it. There’s this lovely chocolate, then some acidity squeeks out, and then it’s hot and painful and there’s more bitter notes. What in the hell guys?
Conclusion: Too many downsides. I kept getting into the idea and then it was too acidic or too bitter or both or it hate-fucked me with earth or back to happy times with herbal acidity and then burnt my tongue.
This is a truly Jekyl and Hyde, which I use because I don’t want to belittle the truly horrible things that people do to one another in relationships. Rough one second, sucking up the next. I’d skip, rank is based on what I can figure out.
Thanks to /u/devoz for this sample. Also this whole thing was demanded by him so you can thank him or blame him for all this.
We’re ending with the oldest, Ben Nevis 27 1990 Archives. Because if I do a multi-review and leave out an Archives, it’s because I didn’t try hard enough these days.
Seriously who can say no to the Fishes of Samoa? Nobody, that’s who.
This is the oldest of the bunch, and the last of the not high end years but screw it still good to have. There’s a name for ya.
Let’s see how it tastes, shall we?
Price: Sold out
Cask Number: 22
Cask Type: Hogshead
Number of Bottles: 236
Colour: 10Y 9/6
Nose: Macaroons, pear, mango/pineapple, floral, white cake, plum pudding, toffee and chocolate
Immediate cooked coconut, mixed with a variety of tropical and just a bit of stone fruit. Goes floral (no surprises at this point) but doesn’t stick there along. Water opens up to a bakery.
Which is what I want water to do. You know, in addition to keeping me and the planet alive.
Taste: Strawberry jam, pine gum, papaya, light brown sugar, tar, grilled pineapple, plum orchard/floral
At first I almost, almost think we’re going to have a second barn burner in this lineup, but it reserves itself. Each flavour is strong, but not enough so to really screw you over. Also each one is really, really flavourful. Dry/Tropical.
Water brings us almost a different dram, a sherry bomb. Tons of floral/plum notes instead of the sugary notes.
Finish: Gooseberry, dry pear, sandalwood, mineral, ginger, sand
Long, dry finish. Almost loses me, however once I gave it time, the finish pairs so perfectly with the big sherry flavour. It doesn’t work as well at first, but as time went on I actually really preferred this part. Which is impressive because usually I don’t like drier hits like this.
Conclusion: Dry/Tropical, well balanced, and water brings out this big sherry flavour. This is the type of whisky people tried, figured it was the perfect time, and bottled it in time. Does it do complexity as well as some similar, high end stuff? No, but what it does do is nothing bad.
I wanted more. I wanted more tropical, which I could get from a second or third dram. This shined for me, and if I could, I’d buy a bottle in a second.
Scotch reviews #1132-7, Highland reviews #187-192, Whisky reviews #1754-9