Dornoch Ben Nevis 1996

Dornoch Ben Nevis

Quite rightly, there’s been a lot of chatter around Ben Nevis lately. The whisky word of mouth grapevine, or what Alex says down the pub, has been echoing about all things from this distillery. These channels once discovered are vital resources more reliable, informed and candid than any pouting Instagram wannabe influencer.

The Ben Nevis 10 year old is a rare moment when affordability and the experience meet in unison and deliver something memorable. I’ve already seen it selling out in some retailers as word catches on and if you haven’t bought a bottle yet then check out the aforementioned review from our Dutch master.

Another Ben Nevis theme has been the arrival of several single cask bottlings from Cadenhead’s at 21 years of age. There must have been 3 or 4 in the past year or so and each cask has reached the summit of development around the same time. A batch of single casks this might not always been the case so it has been an enjoyable coincidence. Our Ben Nevis vertical showcased a range from the distillery ranks, with the 21 year old still standing proudly at the end.

Traditionally whisky from this Fort William distillery is as rugged and uncompromising as the terrain it’s situated in. Meaning it is more of an advanced whisky or specific to a certain pool of flavours and aromas. Oddly, and the real reason behind these 21 year olds those traditional characteristics have been replanted with gorgeous waxy, fruity overtones and a warm embracing hug. Production changes? A foolish mistake or simply a moment where everything comes together in perfect symmetry? We may never know and that’s the beauty of whisky and the single cask format. It shouldn’t be mocked and ignored. In a single cask minus any master blender interference, you have the essence of what makes the liquid specific to that distillery. But still, what was happening in Ben Nevis distillery in 1996? Fermentation times pushed out or just an agreeable marriage between the spirit, the cask and maturation? We may never know, but the end result is arguably all the proof that we need or desire.

As you can see this 21 year old isn’t from Cadenheads for a change as featured in our recent Ben Nevis verticle. Instead, it’s from the brothers behind the Dornoch Distillery who also run the kick-ass whisky bar within the Dornoch Castle Hotel. A favourite haunt of mine, its well worth checking out if you’re planning a trip. Knowing their whiskies and favouring the lost style of fruitiness and layers of flavour, their cask selections have been very enjoyable. We’ve reviewed a few here on MALT and if you do get the opportunity to try a release then do so. The overall standard has been impressive and each is adorned with a distinctive label from Katie Guthrie.

This Dornoch release will set you back £140 and is bottled at 47.5% from a refill sherry butt. An edition of 436 bottles means there’s still a token amount left if this turns out to be another 1996 delight…

Ben Nevis 21

Dornoch Ben Nevis 1996 21 year old – review

Colour: a light golden haze

On the nose: a real fruity freshness with waxed lemons, a lemon tart as well with more butteriness, apples, sweet cinnamon, sweet peanuts and ripe pears. That vibrancy continues with a freshly squeezed lime, caramel, frangipane, pine cones and a runny honey. Superb balance and presentation.

In the mouth: the texture is what pulls you initially. The interplay of the fruits and lemon that drifts into a waxy finish with a touch of smoke. It has a confident airiness, delicate poise and this is from a sherry butt? What the hell were they doing in 1996 in Fort William? Drinking Glenlochy? Kendal mint cake, fresh pancakes with golden syrup, crushed almonds, rock candy and those candy cigarettes you used to love at school, which are probably banned now?


Just a lovely whisky. Do I need to say anything more? When I talked to Phil at Dornoch – full disclosure – about the Ben Nevis you could just see how impressed he was by the cask and how they had to purchase it for release. I’m pleased they did see it through and how many other such casks are still out there? A classic vintage in the making?

Score: 8/10

CategoriesSingle Malt

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