The last time I was in Fort William was back in 2012. Together with a group of friends, I'd completed the West Highland Way. For those of you not familiar with the WHW, it's a long distance walking route stretching 96 miles from Milngavie to Fort William. Those were the days when I used to do a lot of walking. And running. Today, however, thanks to my gimpy foot, the most I could run is a bath. However, on that October afternoon ten years ago, having lost a couple of toe nails somewhere near Kinlochleven, I arrived joyfully in Fort William; dragging my foot behind me like some kind of inbred. Plus ça change.
At that time, our first stop was the nearest pub for a decent pint. Sometimes, things change for the better though and, on this occasion, the first port of call on the Big Playas Group™ Distilleries Road Trip was a fleeting visit to Ben Nevis Distillery.
As soon as we arrived at Ben Nevis, we were greeted by Brian the distillery manager who invited us for a quick dram in the bar. I opted for the non-age statement Coire Leis release which was a delicious oily and biscuity mix; perfect as the first dram of the day!
Next was a quick nosey at the stills. The first thing to strike me was the angle of the lyne arms. Although my photography expertise is tantamount to hee-haw, you can hopefully see that they are almost horizontal with only the slightest downward turn. This helps to create that robust, oily spirit which we know and love.
This had been on my 'distilleries to visit' wish list for a while now. Primarily because I absolutely love this whisky although the proprietary 10 years release has admittedly proved difficult to get hold of as of late. However, thanks to the generosity of Edinburgh's best 'booze mules' - Dramming Around - who gifted me a bottle, I'm able to write out my tasting notes.
There have also been some interesting independently bottled Ben Nevis releases recently, such as the delicious Palo Cortado finish released by Dram Mor last year, which have been worth investigating.
And on that note, here are my thoughts on both.
Ben Nevis 10 Years - 46%
Nose: an initial note of fresh, chopped spinach and olive oil; notes of marmalade on buttered toast soon follow; there's a slight hint of damp wood in the background; after a while in the glass, there are notes of Bourbon biscuits followed by some subtle peat.
Palate: this has an oily texture; there are initial notes of Tunnocks wafers and Toffee Pennies; this is quite drying especially into the finish where hints of coffee cream chocolate appear; there's also a slight orange oil note in the finish together with hints of fresh ginger.
Overall: this is just lovely! It's really well balanced but with enough layers to be able to delve deeper than you could with your average dram.
Ben Nevis 9 Years (Palo Cortado Finish) - 53%
Nose: that initial herbal note is here too as is the toast although this time it's covered in Nutella; a savoury note runs throughout in the background: possibly olive oil; a sweetness appears after a while which smells just like Ben & Jerry's Caramel Chew Chew.
Palate: this has a thicker, yet still oily, texture; notes of dark chocolate and s'mores; this is also quite drying on the finish and those coffee notes appear here too; the salted caramel note becomes more noticeable heading in to the finish.
Overall: unmistakably Ben Nevis with more of a salted caramel note in the finish.
These are two cracking Ben Nevis expressions. If you find them out in the wild, grab them!
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