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Thompson Bros. Ben Nevis 7 Year Old

People often ask me – what’s it like being a whisky enthusiast in Australia?*

In general, I think we don’t have things too bad. We have any number of whisky shows, whisky clubs, whisky bars, a branch of the SMWS, and active social media forums. If you want to stick strictly to Australian whisky, it could be years before you exhaust the ever-expanding catalogue of established and newer distilleries. The technical craft is supreme, the reputation speaks for itself, and the bar is set high. For a new distillery the message is loud and clear: don’t bother joining in if you aren’t going to put in the effort.

Writing for Malt has spurred me on to explore more Australian whisky products in the last few months than I did in the previous 10 years combined. Readers of this site expect interesting and well-written articles. From my little niche in this corner of the globe, if I can bring anything different to the table, it is access to and knowledge of our local products.

However, my heart will always lay elsewhere. On balance, I am more passionate about what we import to these shores. I’ve dabbled with India (Paul John and Amrut), dallied with Taiwan (Kavalan), had a moment with Sweden (Mackmyra), gave Texas some appreciation (Balcones), greeted France with an enthusiastic bonjour (Armorik) and been known to enjoy the fruits of England (Cotswolds and the English Whisky Company).

When I browse my drinks cabinet, however, around 75% of the bottles come from Scotland… and why not? It is the birthplace of whisky (though Ireland also claims that title). The key, down here, is patience. Reading Malt, Whiskyfun, or any number of other blogs, the tendency is to get impatient for these releases to make it to Australia. Most do, eventually, after they find a local importer.

If you can’t wait, the alternative is to order directly from international websites. This isn’t uncommon among the local whisky community. The retail price – once converted to Australian dollars – can initially seem very good value, because if you set your location as Australia a UK website will exclude VAT.

However, the sting arrives at the Australian border, where alcohol importations are held by the Border Force. Your purchases are assessed for value and then the courier company will contact you to pay the determined amount to cover duty and taxes. If you do not pay, the goods will be returned to sender.

I tried this once in 2017 to see if it might be worth the trouble. I ordered two Whisky Exchange exclusive bottles, both around £120. The Australian Border costs ended up being an additional $150 Australian dollars, taking what was initially a good deal to about what I’d expect to pay if the bottles had ever made their way down here to a local retailer (which they wouldn’t have).

So, the appeal of ordering internationally is the chance to obtain bottles that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to access. I ordered the bottles on a Monday evening and they were in my hands by Friday afternoon; I’ve had slower deliveries from Australian websites! Overall, the experience was a positive one, however since then I’ve stuck with what makes it to the Australian retailers.

Bimber has finally made it here in the last few weeks – albeit an allocation from one single cask. We are still waiting on Waterford and Whisky Sponge. One independent bottler I had my eye on for a couple years now was Thompson Brothers. They’ve been well covered here on MALT, mostly through Jason’s writing.

Now we have Thompson Brothers releases in Australia too, through Melbourne based importer Select Spirits (an arm of The Elysian Whisky Bar). I’ve kept my eye on their releases and finally found one worth my money – a small batch Ben Nevis release. This was bottled at 7 years old and comes from multiple sherry butts. It was released at 50% ABV, enabling an outturn of 1,013 bottles. $175 (Australian dollars) is a little on the high side, but not unexpected. The particulars remind me somewhat of the North Star Chaos releases – small batches from a single distillery at 50% ABV.

Thompson Brothers Ben Nevis 7 Year Old 2013-2021 – Review

Colour: Warm gold.

On the nose: Eerily reminiscent of some Gordon & MacPhail Glenrothes I’ve had. Tarmac on a hot day, charcoal prawns from a street market, smoke coming off tyres at a drag race, butterscotch and boiled aniseed lollies. Seaweed in a freshwater estuary. Oyster sauce. Nosing this might’ve been worth the price of admission alone, but time to move on.

In the mouth: Raw, dirty and muddy, like a farmyard after some good rain. Such a thick, viscous mouthfeel. Sweet and sour sauce on Pad Thai. A variety of flavours from Asian cooking in fact – broccoli in soy sauce, Szechuan peppercorns, chili paste. I am also getting sundried tomatoes, peanut oil and beef stock. I am happy with the balance and don’t add water, though at 50% ABV it could likely take it.

Conclusions:

There’s quite a bit of young Ben Nevis on the market – trust me, I snap up whatever comes our way. I wonder if it’s more resilient to being bottled in its youth than other distillate. Whatever the case, this shows me the value of ensuring I check the feeds of all Australian retailers as I would’ve loathed to let this one slip by.

Maybe this isn’t for everyone, but that’s the nature of reviewing: these are only my opinions and this might not work for you at all. But it’s a smart bottling from Thompson Brothers and an impressive first experience for me with their products.

Score: 8/10

* No one has ever asked me this.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Graham says:

    Mark lovely tasting notes here. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much.

    I’ll put my hand up and say this one was not a hit with me definitely one to split a room. It’s got a powerful flavour and would turn to it at the end of the night but certainly couldn’t start an evening on it. It reminded me of the McDonald’s Glencoe blend from Ben Nevis which is equally down and dirty. I recommend that at half the price for almost the same experience.

    1. Mark P says:

      That’s actually a great comp Graham. I’ve had a couple bottles of the Glencoe but finished the last around 18 mths ago.

      Great value – usually around the low $100s down here. A whisky that speaks loudly that’s for sure.

      I’ve returned to this BN once more after doing the scoring and still am happy at that mark.

  2. RC says:

    With the recent changes at Malt, these ratings are getting out of hand. I know it’s all subjective, but there have been so many high scores for mediocre whiskies. This is a fine dram, but nowhere near an 8.

    1. Mark P says:

      Hi RC, thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Interestingly over on WF they gave this bottle 88/100 which is the equivalent of 8.8/10, even more unforgivable for you I’d imagine. Perhaps you need to head over to their social media feed and leave a comment as well.

      Just kidding with you mate. My advice is to find voices you trust and listen to those, if it’s not me that’s fine. Maybe this is why Mark Newton stopped assigning scores altogether.

      I’m actually working on a piece now on the subjective nature of this sort of criticism, and how there likely isn’t any such thing as objective right or wrong. Have a read if the site hasn’t deteriorated too much for you by then

      1. RC says:

        Well, to be fair, an 88 on WF is not the same as an 8.8 here. I know that’s how fractions work, but their scale is weighted differently. It’s the same with wine/cigar ratings; lots of things in the 80s, some 90s, some 70s, and a few outliers.

        Like I said, I know it’s all subjective and an 8 for you might be a 6 for me. I have just noticed that lately when I have read reviews on here they all seem to think that everything is a 7+. I appreciate the write-ups on Malt and will continue to read the reviews here, it just seems that things are a bit less critical these days.

        1. Mark P says:

          WF will tell you they use the whole 100 pt scale though.

          Seriously though I was only jesting with that reference, I know how it works.

          Personally, every bottle I’ve reviewed here I’ve paid for out of my own hard earned. No gifted samples here. So I tend to buy things I think I’ll like beyond the review….this is all voluntary, unpaid, and a costly past time financially. I don’t tend to want to pay $150 for something likely to be poor and then be stuck with that in the cabinet. So that may be why my scores trend high

    2. John says:

      RC, Malt is made up of different contributors. Just because we all share a platform to share our reviews it doesnt mean we share the same opinions and preferences. It also doesn’t mean our scores should be universally followed by everyone.

    3. Taylor says:

      RC, I would point out to you that our scoring bands are price sensitive. As each reviewer lives in a different region (with a different selection of whiskies available at prices that vary from elsewhere in the world), their scores may be influenced higher or lower relative to the score of someone paying a different price in a region with other options. Throw in the fact that we’re dealing with highly subjective individual tastes and preferences, and the comparison between a reviewer’s score and what you (or I, or anyone else) think is the “correct” score is rendered nearly meaningless. You could take all that information and write the site off entirely (you wouldn’t be the first)… or, you could do as I encourage all our readers to do: focus more on the tasting notes and conclusion to see if a whisky is likely to suit your palate. Have a blessed day!

  3. Adam says:

    I’m going to have to agree with RC on this one. It seems the new Malt is suffering a bit from score inflation. In old Malt times, a 6 or 7 was a great score, a 5 was pretty good! Now everything seems to be getting an 8. Maybe 8 is the new 6?

    I don’t mean to be overly critical – just some friendly feedback from a long time reader. It doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things as most regular readers will quickly recalibrate. I love all the hard work you guys put in and really appreciate the articles and reviews. Thanks for the great content!

    1. Mark P says:

      Thanks Adam. I always keep in mind the passion the fans of this site feel for it and have the scoring bands in mind.

      The feedback here has me thinking- if I gave samples of this to 100 different critics and the highest score anyone gave it was a 3, does that make my 8 invalid? Not to me….I can only report my own reaction. In time maybe readers will recalibrate to each reviewer’s scoring trend.

      In a way I feel like the real winner in that it’s only about 9 hrs till Saturday night where i am and I’m going to revisit this dram….just to be sure. Purely professional reasons, you see.

      All the best!

  4. Darren says:

    I have to agree with many here. Whilst everyone has their opinion I lament Jason’s very critical but fair and valued scoring. I have noticed a marked increase in the scores given to what I would consider to be good but not stellar bottlings by people who may have not tried that many whiskies. I still maintain that you need to have tasted some old Brora’s, 1940’s Macallan’s, Glenugie’s, Samaroli’s, 1960’s Bowmores and Springbanks and having done so I am not sure some of those same people (who would presumbably give said bottlings a 9 or possibly even a 10) would then be giving some of the recent offerings an 8 or 9.

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