I can’t think of any other distillery that would rebrand their range, and release a new expression, without bothering to publicise it.

Yet, this is exactly what Ben Nevis appear to have done. I knew that new labels were coming thanks to my visit to the distillery in July, but a new release came as a shock. I was back in the Highlands in August, and it was my turn to entertain the children whilst my wife toured the distillery with her parents. She returned with a surprise: the Coire Leis, this unannounced new arrival, a couple of days before it appeared online at stores such as the Tyndrum Whisky Shop. She thought that as it was new, I’d definitely want to try it. She knows me too well!

The change in branding is pretty noticeable, in that the bottle was now adorned with a large mainly black label, with a golden outline drawing of Ben Nevis the main feature (the 10 Year Old has a white label with the same golden elements). It’s all fairly simple, definitely more modern, but not particularly eye-catching. The bottle and stopper are unchanged (still brown, and wooden respectively), and it seems to be a rebrand with a low budget, that does nothing to dispel the notion that Ben Nevis single malt remains low down owner Nikka’s priority list.

When I posted a photo on social media, there were complaints that the new look is boring, and even a comment that it would look at home in Aldi. Personally, I don’t mind it being a bit dull and not flashy enough for Instagram. A highly fashionable look would be out of character for Ben Nevis, and boring is fine with me, as long as the whisky remains at a high quality.

The Coire Leis is named after the water source for the distillery, a small loch whose waters run down the slopes of Ben Nevis towards Fort William. It’s a NAS whisky that seems to be designed as an “entry level” Ben Nevis single malt, and as such it is slightly cheaper than the 10 Year Old. Beyond that, I could find very little information about it, so I decided to contact the distillery by email for more information, in an attempt to glean further information about the rebrand.

I received answers from Innes at the distillery visitor centre to the following questions (the email conversation has been edited and re-arranged in parts for clarity):

Malt: I recently received a bottle of Coire Leis, but don’t know very much about it at all. Could you tell us a bit about this new bottling?

Innes: The Coire Leis (named after a lochan on Ben Nevis where our water source starts) is a non-age statement single malt matured exclusively in first-fill bourbon casks. We at the visitor centre haven’t been officially told how old the Coire Leis is, but we believe it is somewhere between 8 and 10 years old.

Malt: Is it possible to hear a bit more about the rebrand? Is the 10 Year Old whisky unchanged?

Innes: The rebrand was launched about three weeks ago (early August), and featured a rebranded 10 Year Old and the debut of the Coire Leis. The 10 Year Old – despite the new packaging – is still the same recipe.

Malt: Do you know if there are any special releases, single cask, or cask strength, in the pipeline?

Innes: I’m afraid I haven’t heard anything about upcoming single-casks or cask strength releases as these are normally kept well under wraps until the last minute!

I’m thankful that Innes took the time to reply, and we know a bit more than we did previously, but it seems that staff at the distillery are kept almost as much in the dark about Nikka’s plans for Ben Nevis as the general public. The main conclusions are that if you enjoy the Ben Nevis 10 Year Old, it remains a “buy on sight” kind of whisky. If you like the Glencoe 8 at cask strength then you’d better buy that if you get the chance too!

It must be time to sample the Coire Leis, to see what this new expression brings to the range. This is bottled at 46% ABV. £44.

Ben Nevis Coire Leis – Review

Colour: Pale white wine.

On the nose: Lemon zest, orange, and sweet vanilla give a fresh start. Then malt biscuits, honey and oats come through, drizzled in cream, before whisps of charred oak arrive alongside some greener herbal notes and a touch of fennel.

In the mouth: Singed orange peel, apple pie and caramel (bringing back memories of tarte tatin!). There’s a fair amount of oak in the background, with digestive biscuits too, and then poached pears give it a lift before the spicy finish, containing pepper, cinnamon, chilli, and a hint of smoke. The traditional Ben Nevis oiliness and creamy texture is there, although quite restrained, and it goes down smoothly. The addition of water dials down the spiciness and gives more space to the fruits, but it is not a must.

Conclusions:

Tasting it, it’s unmistakably a Ben Nevis whisky: it’s pretty oily, and packed full of signature Ben Nevis qualities. However, compared with the 10 Year Old, it’s paler, and nowhere near as heavy and chewy. Next to the 10 it even seems a little thin, and there’s a bit of bite to it that points to some younger spirit. Having said that, it’s still a good whisky, enjoyable, and is easier drinking than the 10. More of a session whisky perhaps; I can imagine it being liked by many a whisky drinker who prefer a lighter style. It is in keeping with the accessible profile of many a Japanese whisky released in recent years (not really a surprise). I do wonder why there hasn’t been the confidence to give an age-statement on the bottle, especially if it is aged 8 years or more as has been suggested in correspondence with the distillery.

The only problem I have is that it is priced too close to the 10 Year Old. If this remains at £44, and the 10 Year Old at £50 (current prices at a Tyndrum Whisky) then I can only imagine buying the Coire Leis if the 10 Year Old is out of stock. However, given the regular scarcity of the 10, having to settle for the Coire Leis would seem to be very likely situation indeed! As a fairly priced stopgap it will more than suffice, but if you’re looking for something more interesting and weighty, then you’ll be back in the scramble to secure the evermore sought after releases from independent bottlers.

Score: 6/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
Jon

I’ve been drinking whisky ever since I was given access to my Dad’s supplies as an 18 year old. Yet, it’s only in recent years that I’ve really taken an interest in it, learning more about what goes in the bottle, and trying more and more different styles from all over the world. My love of scotch, in particular, is intertwined with my love of Scotland’s mountains and wild places. I find that time, place, and the company a dram is shared in is every bit as important as what is in the glass! I'm on Instagram.

  1. Scott says:

    Hi, I visited the distillery last week and thoroughly enjoyed it. Our guide confirmed it was 8 years old. The shop had plenty of 10 year in stock along with the others. Interestingly, I was told they had enough stocks of the 10 to keep bottling some for the next 3 years, after which, it will be very scarce again, so was told to stock up now!
    Went into Fort William after, the House Of Clan shop on the high street has the usual touristy stuff, but has a decent whisky selection. Within it was loads of the 10, must have been circa 15 bottles on show, never seen so many, which seemed to pass most of the tourists by!
    When I get round to opening the bottle I look forward to comparing it with your notes, with no sherry casks involved I’m expecting it to be softer and approachable, perhaps more spirit driven.
    I notice the 10 now states it’s NCF and natural colour, but the previous version did not, so not sure if there has been a change in the production process?
    Cheers

  2. Jon says:

    Thanks Scott. It’s not helpful if the staff are giving slightly mixed messages, but the main conclusion seems to be that it’s best to stock up on the 10 whilst it’s readily available!

    The old label was lacking in information, but bottled at 46 there would have been no need for chill filtration, and a quick Google search unearthed a number of reviews that say it wasn’t previously filtered. The distillery is also keen to say the whisky is unchanged. Still, I’d be interested to try old and new side by side.

    Your expectations for the Coire Leis seem spot on to me. Hope you enjoy it!

  3. Jon says:

    Hi Toby,

    Thanks. I’d be open to it when I get to taste the new version. I still have an unopened old one, but my in-laws bought a new one at the distillery, so I’ll no doubt have a chance to try them side by side in the next month or so.

    The article by Noortje is first class, so I haven’t previously felt any need to duplicate it!

  4. Toby says:

    I look forward to the review, if you do get round to it. I have a bottle of the new 10 year and i’m enjoying it, which has made me very curious to know if and how its different to the old version which I have never tasted and is now unobtainable.

    All the best
    Toby

  5. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    never fear because of the closeness of prices. Pushing a 10 year old even further up is an easy task for any whisky company nowadays.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  6. Welsh Toro says:

    Hi Jon, good post. I have a kind of problem with this one. It reminds me, not surprisingly, like the difference between a Miyagikyo 10 and the Miyagikyo NAS. I quite like the NAS but it’s nowhere near as good as the 10 (Miyagikyo) and grossly overpriced. I’ve yet to try the Coire Leis but I’m fairly sure I would think the same. It’s all very well for Nikka to keep to keep doing this to keep the coffers ticking over but why would I buy it? Because I can’t get anything better? Don’t think that’s going to be a problem. Ben Nevis is a very interesting distillery and I really wish we could get some equilibrium from them. Nikka need to respect that asset and I hope that now they can’t just use it as a feeder for fake ‘Japanese’ malt they will try and develop some stock. Cheers. WT

    1. Jon says:

      Hi, thanks WT, I agree that it would be great if Nikka started to respect Ben Nevis and realised what a gem of a distillery they have at their disposal. I’ve not tried the Miyagikyo, but your comparison seems a fair one, especially if you like the Ben Nevis 10. The Coire Leis will mainly appeal to those who prefer a lighter whisky (for example my wife!).

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