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The town of Fort William huddles in the shadow of mighty Ben Nevis in the western highlands of Scotland. Standing at some 1,345 metres, Nevis is the highest peak in the British Isles and draws more than 150,000 climbers per year. At the foot of the mountain, however, lies another attraction: the Ben Nevis distillery.
Founded in 1825 and made famous by ‘Long’ John MacDonald, the Ben Nevis distillery is now owned by Japanese whisky giants Nikka. It produces something of a hidden gem of a whisky. The Nevis malt isn’t the most visible of brands in its home nation, but those who come across it, are seldom disappointed in what they find.
I decided to pay Ben Nevis a visit in May of this year and was almost dumbstruck to find Fort William basking in glorious sunshine, something which I am reliably informed hasn’t happened since 1923. The distillery appeared attractive and welcoming in the morning light as the sunshine glinted from its slate roof tiles.
Inside, a welcoming reception area leads to a small cafe and shop, displaying an array of bottlings from single cask and limited edition malts to blends and blended malts. The quantity of expressions on offer comes as something of a surprise since only the standard 10 year old malt is regularly found on the shelves of most retailers.
The tour commences with an introductory video which, it must be said, could do with some updating. Fortunately, the viewing experience was brought to an abrupt end before it could become too excruciating, thanks to an apparent technology failure behind the scenes. I guess I’ll have to come back another time to see the conclusion of the tale of big Hector McDram the Giant.
From the cinema room, the tour sets out to explore the distillery proper, taking in each stage of the process and culminating in a visit to the impressive still-house before exploring the variation of casks used in maturation. Standing guard over the warehousing like some vast sentinel is Ben Nevis itself, an impressive sight, and the source of the water used in the production of this most intriguing of malts.
Back at the shop, a few drams were sampled before I opted to take home a bottle of ‘McDonald’s Traditional Ben Nevis’, a peated single malt bottled at 46% and available for just £40.
Smell: Toffee and Subtle Smoke, Caramel and Fudge, Leather, Menthol, Oak & light Sherry.
Taste: Toffee, Orange, subtle Sherry influence, Caramel, Pepper and Peat Smoke.
Thoughts: A lovely little dram for a very reasonable price. At the distillery I paid around £40. Perhaps not a well known dram but a thoroughly enjoyable one all the same. In actual fact, the quality of the whisky being produced at Ben Nevis is remarkably high across the board, given its relatively low profile and ‘McDonald’s Celebrated Traditional Ben Nevis’ is one of the best reasonably priced malts I’ve come across this year. I was disappointed to find that they didn’t have any of their 10 year old available when I arrived. One taste of this and I had forgotten all about it.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.