When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I would often go outside in the middle of winter with no more than a t-shirt or a short-sleeve cotton shirt on my back, telling myself that cold is just a feeling, just a sensation, and that any discomfort it caused could be willed away if one’s volition could be sufficiently steeled against nature – that is, if one’s will were manly and strong enough. I still felt cold, but I told myself I wasn’t cold and, now that I think back on it, I didn’t really suffer any ill consequences from dressing as I did in weather that called for warmer clothing. Eventually, however, thanks to something that might be called maturity (or maybe I just stopped reading so much Nietzsche and Max Stirner), I relinquished seeing every reality as a challenge to be overcome; I no longer considered a winter coat a sign of weakness or gullibility.
Which may or may not have something to do with this whisky.
As I look at my notes, I don’t see many descriptors for appealing aromas and tastes; yet my experience with this whisky was quite positive overall. It wasn’t as if one odd characteristic was masking another, either – the aromas and tastes, if noted, were present and discernable.
So, did I just refuse to be repulsed by, say, the aroma of petroleum jelly, or the taste of musk and meat drippings on cardboard, the way I used to refuse to acknowledge the cold? Was I trying to bend reality by liking this whisky despite its conglomerated oddnesses?
I don’t think so. Rather, I’d say, overall, that this is an unusual whisky that manages to balance unexpected and, on the face of it, undesirable elements into some sort of pleasing harmony.
This is a 17 year old single cask Ben Nevis distilled in 1996, matured in a refill bourbon hogshead and bottled in 2013 at cask strength, giving it an ABV of 55.2%. It has a rather stunning medium gold color and appears very oily in the glass, coating the sides and forming very slow, sultry rivulets. Provocative and alluring to the eye…
Here’s where things start to (seemingly) go awry. The first aroma one picks up is salted caramel, but that soon becomes salted ham. There are raisons and dates, chocolate, taffy and a savory salt, but there is also an oaky musky spice that is almost feline in character. Hard to believe, but, believe it or not, this is not hard to take in the olfactory sense. It fits somehow. And just as weird, I get the smell of petroleum jelly. This is all rounded off with stone fruits, especially apricots, and gentle wafts of curry, but curry divorced from its wonted fire. All in all, one of the most unusual noses I’ve encountered, but somehow it works. Imagine going to a theatre and seeing a stage full of more or less misshapen people of many odd shapes and sizes who nonetheless have been beautifully choreographed and who all know their parts in the dance very well. That’s what the nose on this whisky is like. (23/25)
Cardboard on which the meaty juices of hamburgers being basted with an organic musk cologne have dripped. You also get wood, oak, but not too-long-in-the-cask oak woodiness – just a nice oaky taste mixed with a moderate measure of malty sugars and a touch of tamarind. Also dried fruit, maybe those apricots again, but definitely stone fruits other than peaches. Almonds are thinly discernable, and a sense of leather as if it were suspended in the mouth without touching the tongue – something like that. This dance has fewer participants and they are a tad less practiced, but this is still a rich, enjoyable show. (22/25)
Of medium length and moderately warming, with astringent leather and the taste of savory pineapple on grilled meat. As it goes along, the savory aspects linger as the malty sweetness dries. (21/25)
For some devoted whisky drinkers, a rich, multifarious nose is enough to carry a whisky; if that describes you, seek this whisky out immediately before it disappears. In terms of the balance and structure of the whole picture a whisky presents, however, the palate and finish, in my opinion, should make equal but distinctive contributions to the overall experience of the drink being savored. The problem with this 1996 Ben Nevis is that the nose is especially and unusually interesting while the palate, though very good, is less so. And the finish has the least of all to say. Still, I enjoyed drinking this whisky. It’s just that the palate and especially the finish were not as compelling as the oddly alluring nose caused one to hope they would be. (20/25)
Total points for this whisky: 86
Check out the bottler: http://www.wmcadenhead.com/about-us
Many thanks to David Catania of Burke Distributing for the sample.
At least until she sings!