Ben Nevis distillery was founded in 1825 by ‘Long John’ MacDonald. Born and raised on a farm where he learned the skills of a distiller, Long John was something of a local legend. He was said to stand some 6’4″ which at the time must have seemed enormous and it may perhaps be due to this exceptional stature that other local illicit distillers took no issue with his decision to go legitimate.
Long John could trace his lineage 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 his Jacobite Rebellion. Alexander, the clan chief, even counselled against Culloden as the choice of location on which to meet the English but alas, he was over-ruled and died in battle 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.
On 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 the distillery to include a second premises nearby (which no longer exists). Like many distilleries though, the good times didn’t last and Ben Nevis was closed in 1908. The next century saw an unsettled period of ownership changes and closures until it was finally bought in 1989 by Japanese whisky giant Nikka. A Visitor Centre and Cafe was added in 1991 and then in 1996 they launched a new 10 year old single malt as the brands flagship whisky.
While the whisky I’m going to review comes from the Ben Nevis distillery it was actually released by independent bottler ‘The Vintage Malt Whisky Co’, formed in 1992 by Brian Crook, a former export director for a well known distiller. His aim: to hunt down and bottle exceptional casks from some of Scotland’s best distilleries. Their portfolio includes the Finlaggan and Ileach brands of Islay single malts as well as the Cooper’s Choice range of single casks – of which, this Ben Nevis is one.
I often get a strong Chocolate Orange vibe from the nose of a Ben Nevis and this one is no exception. There’s also Barley, Vanilla, Almond and Honey and with a slight hint of Must. The palate is a pleasant mix of the same Orange and Chocolate notes, with Caramel and warming Spice – Cinnamon, Clove and Ginger.
The Scores: About the Scoring…
Smell: 16 / 20. Malty and fruity. Improves with a little water and time in the glass.
Taste: 17 / 20. 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: 7 / 10. While it’s certainly not cheap at £65, it is a still a single cask with decent age and character and limited to only 320 bottles.
Overall: 40 / 50. A decent dram and an interesting alternative to the rather limited distillery produced expressions of Ben Nevis.