Ben Nevis distillery stands in Lochy Bridge, Fort William and nestles at the foot of the largest mountain in the British Isles. Founded in 1825 by Angus McDonnell, the business was taken over just a few years later in 1831 by one John MacDonald, a giant of a man known locally as ‘Long John’.
At 6 foot 4 inches, Long John was something of an athlete and leader of the local mountain rescue team. On one dark night, during the Queen Victoria-inspired tourism boom, MacDonald was summoned from his bed chamber and sent to climb the mountain in order to rescue the young Duchess of Buccleuch, whose party had run into difficulty on the hillside.
MacDonald set off without complaint, ringing a huge bell to attract the attention of the lost tourists. He returned with the Duchess riding on the back of his horse, a feat which would earn him media fame across the country.
Emboldened by his new status, Long John took it upon himself to send a cask of his whisky to Buckingham Palace to aid in the Prince of Wales’ 21st birthday celebrations. Despite his lofty ambitions however, MacDonald had plowed the entirety of his fortune into Ben Nevis and was forced to borrow heavily to remain in production. When his sales began to fall, debtors came calling and John was forced to cease trading. Declared bankrupt in 1856, he died a short time later, leaving the business in its entirety to his son Peter.
Like his father, Peter possessed a skill for sales and breathed new life into Ben Nevis. He oversaw expansion, constructing a pier on the river and employing a fleet of cargo ships to haul his spirit down the west coast to the great blending houses in Glasgow. Honouring his father, he relaunched the product as ‘Long John’s Dew of Ben Nevis’ which he exported to the likes of France, Australia and the USA.
When Peter passed away in 1891, his personal fortune was left to his two sons but by 1908, the distillery was closed and remained silent until bought in 1941 by Canadian, Joseph Hobbs. In the silent years, the ‘Dew of Ben Nevis’ brand was sold but under the current Japanese ownership, a blended scotch known as ‘Nevis Dew’ is produced as an homage to the original single malt.
The current 12 year old iteration of the blend is bottled at 40% abv and retails in the UK for £25.
Smell: Honey, vanilla, toffee & fudge. Apple & lemon. Orange marmalade & plain scones. Flour. Straw. Marzipan.
Taste: Orange, vanilla, toffee, honey & buttery shortbread. Apple juice and pear. Wee touch of oak and gently warming spice at the finish.
Value for Money: It’s not the most complex but it’s a tasty dram that shows decent balance and a bit of maturity.
Nice arrival and a pleasantly warm finish but there isn’t a lot of development in between. A decent if unspectacular blend that perhaps suffers from a lack of personality rather than any lack of quality. A nice alternative to other widely available blends though.
Visit the Ben Nevis website here.