Ben Nevis distillery was founded in 1825 by ‘Long John’ MacDonald. Born and raised on a farm where he learned the skills of the distiller, Long John was something of a local legend. He was said to stand at 6’4″, enormous by the standards of the day, and it may have been at least partly due to his great stature that the illicit distillers in the area took no issue with his decision to purchase a distilling license.
Long John’s lineage traces back to the earliest MacDonalds, the Lords of the Isles and beyond that, to Robert the Bruce himself. His family, the Keppoch MacDonalds, marched with Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Jacobite Rebellion. Alexander, the clan chief, even counselled against using Culloden as the battlefield but was over-ruled and died in the conflict, along with many of his colleagues. Long John was born just 53 years after the battle and the reverberations must still have been rumbling on as he grew. It was perhaps a little of this rebellious family spirit that attracted him to distilling in the first place.
Upon his death in 1865, the distillery passed to John’s son – Donald. He marketed the whisky as Long John’s Dew of Ben Nevis and expanded to include a second premises nearby. Like many distilleries though, the good times weren’t too last and Ben Nevis closed in 1908. The next 100 years saw a period of unsettlement with new owners coming and going in between lengthy closures. Then, in 1989, the distillery was bought by Japanese whisky producer Nikka. A Visitor Centre and Cafe was added in 1991 and then in 1996 came the launch of a new 10 year old single malt.
This particular Ben Nevis expression was released by ‘The Vintage Malt Whisky Co’, a company formed in 1992 by Brian Crook, himself a former export director for a well known distiller. He set out with the aim of hunting down and bottling exceptional casks from some of Scotland’s finest distilleries. Their portfolio includes the Finlaggan and Ileach brands of Islay single malts, and the Cooper’s Choice range of single casks, which includes this Ben Nevis.
Chocolate Orange on the nose with Barley, Vanilla, Almond and Honey, even a slight musty note. On the palate there is a Orange and Chocolate again with Caramel and warming Spices like Cinnamon, Clove and Ginger.
Smell: Malty and fruity. Improves with a little water and time in the glass.
Taste: Needs a little water here too, primarily to tone down the spice – otherwise it dominates a little too much. With a few drops added though, it becomes a more balanced affair and for me, more enjoyable.
Value for Money: While it’s certainly not cheap at £65, it is a single cask bottling of decent age and character, limited to only 320 bottles. A good buy.
Score: 40 / 50. About the Scoring…
A very pleasant dram and an interesting alternative to the rather limited distillery produced expressions of Ben Nevis.