The spectre of Ben Nevis spread far and wide during 2018, as many woke up to how good the revamped 10-year-old expression was. In reality, the Ben Nevis 10 has always been a solid staple, with the more traditional bottle-shaped incumbent proving a solid and enjoyable whisky.
Enthusiasts like nothing more than getting value and something special in the glass. The fact that the revamped, squat-shaped Ben Nevis 10-year-old features older liquid within its makeup is a scintillating prospect, as laid out in Noortje’s excellent review. I just wish she’d write more for us, but when she does, it’s always worth the wait.
I’ve always enjoyed the Ben Nevis 10, and having visited the distillery numerous times over the years, have grown attached to its rugged and individualist ways. The new edition was eagerly snapped up by whisky fans who ravaged the contents within and went back for more. Availability has become an issue, particularly abroad, where the traditionally-shaped 10 was better distributed… so much so that I ended up becoming a Scottish refuge for Nevis bottles. These were to be picked up at a later date whenever the thirsty owners visited the greatest wee country in the world.
Unsurprisingly, even in the UK, the Ben Nevis 10 became a rare sight at retail. I’m sure being highly-rated by many of the MALT team didn’t help, either. When bottles started to reappear at retail, the price began to creep upwards with the Whisky Exchange now charging £46.95 for a bottle. Note it was as high as £53.95 last month. Compare this to the original launch price that was nearer £40, and you can imagine just how successful this relaunch has been for the distillery. The fact that I’d happily pay nearer £60 for a bottle nowadays underlines its quality. After all, this puts it in the price range of the sublime Lagavulin 16-year-old, and it stomps all over Islay’s best single malt.
You’d think Nikka, who owns Ben Nevis, would be delighted by this turn of events. Sadly, nothing seems further from the truth, as it comes across as an inconvenience to an onlooker. Facing crippling demand and widespread shortages, a distillery representative had to travel to Japan and beg for the stock to keep the 10-year-old alive. The distillery itself has never produced to its maximum capacity, and even then, it’s only capable of around 2 million or so litres per year. In Scottish terms, this is a modest output and fairly insignificant if contained within the Chivas or Diageo compound of distilleries.
When Nikka purchased Ben Nevis, which had been closed since 1986, in ‘89, it did so not to launch an assault on the Scotch market, but to ensure consistency of supply for its own blends, with production commencing in 1991. Speculation is that almost 40% of the annual output is shipped to Japan to support brands such as the Nikka Black blend, or even worse, bottled as something Japanese when it is in fact from Fort William! Such is the murky waters of Japanese whisky, where fake brands can claim to be one thing, yet are comprised of something far removed from Japan.
This may explain Nikka’s reluctance to make the most of the surge in interest around Ben Nevis. After all, the current status quo is perfectly agreeable and satisfactory. As consumers, we must enjoy the 10-year-old in whatever form or quantity for as long as possible. Such a state of affairs makes the arrival of this Ben Nevis 10-year-old cask strength even more surprising, alongside the fact that Batch 1 suggests there are more to follow.
Of all the whiskies I’ve opened during 2019 and put online via my social media, this cask-strength edition is the one that has prompted the most interest for onlookers. Comprised of first-fill bourbon, sherry and wine casks, this release is bottled at 62.4% and is individually numbered. My own bottle here is #770, and the total outturn is around 8000-9000 bottles. Distilled on 21st April 2008 and bottled during September 2018 this release will set you back £96.95 via the Whisky Exchange or from Master of Malt.
Ben Nevis 10 Year Old Batch No.1 – review
Colour: Rubbed brass.
On the nose: Fresh and bursting with fresh fruit, laced with oil. Wet pine, varnish and apricot jam. Figs with vanilla; a vanilla sponge and orange peel give this a rich and complex layering. Honey and toffee follow alongside sunflower oil and walnuts. Time takes us into spent tobacco, cashews and edamame beans with melted chocolate. Water is good fun at this strength revealing more honey, oranges, cinnamon and cherry.
In the mouth: The wine influence comes through with redberries, cranberries, liquorice and apples. There are cardamon, charcoal and a dry finish with green peppercorns, as well as a touch of smoke. Throughout, there is a pleasingly chewy texture to the whisky, with an oiliness. Water brings further delight, with chocolate, red grapes, blood orange and sweet tobacco.
A real personal highlight of 2019 so far, in my opinion. This version is a different beast to the approachable 10-year-old expression at 46%, but what a monster! There’s fun to be had exploring its nooks and crannies, unlocking hidden depths and revelling in what’s coming out of Fort William’s sole survivor.
As the price of the other 10 slowly creeps upwards, the gap between it and this more-rugged and ferocious sibling becomes much smaller. I’m happy with either, given the choice, but I’m even happier to have the option of both, and more Ben Nevis can only be a good thing. This release is thoroughly recommended, and that’s something I rarely state.