The Ben Nevis distillery is located close to the town of Fort William in the western Highlands. It is one of only two distilleries currently in operation in this area of Scotland, with Oban being the other. The distillery has a yearly capacity of two million litres and takes its name from Ben Nevis, which is the UK's highest mountain at 1343 metres (4406 feet) above sea level. It sits at the foot of the mountain in one of the most rugged and scenic settings of any distillery in Scotland. The water used in the whisky production at Ben Nevis is collected from a spring that is supplied by rain or melted snow that has fallen on the mountain.
Ben Nevis was founded in 1825 by John McDonald and remained in his family until the 1950s when Canadian businessman Joseph Hobbs took conrol. He revolutionised Ben Nevis by installing a Coffey still (a type of still used to produce grain whisky) and made Ben Nevis the first distillery able to produce single malt and grain whiskies at the same location. The late 1970s and 1980s were difficult for the distillery and it was closed for varying reasons for most of this period, until the Japanese distillers Nikka bought it in 1989. Nikka is a subsiduary of the Asahi Brewery Company and they restarted production in 1990 and Ben Nevis has been operating ever since.
This 10 years old is the only regular bottling that Ben Nevis release. It is occasionally joined by limited edition special releases from the distillery and is also popular with independent bottlers. They also produce two blended whiskies at the distillery - Dew of Ben Nevis and Glencoe. This 10 years old is matured in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks and is golden amber in colour. The nose is rich and sweet with an interesting mix of aromas. There are lots of prominent cereal grains and toasted nuts (think of almonds) and these combine with rich dried fruit (imagine sultanas and candied orange peel), some caramel and a hint of smokiness (think of coal smoke as it has a slight sulphuric edge to it). On the palate this is rich and creamy with some initial sugary sweetness (that caramel again). The cereal, nut and dried fruit (especially the orange peel) elements from the nose are all present and are joined by some vanilla, some warm spices (imagine cinnamon) and some slightly bitter woodiness (think of damp oak). The finish is decently long, rich and sweet but turns bitter towards the end, leaving a bitter alcohol spirit burn as the last thing that you experience.
Ben Nevis 10 years old is a good and enjoyable single malt that seems a bit older than it is. It is more complex than expected with an interesting combination of characteristics. It would be a good whisky to introduce someone to the world of single malt as it is easy drinking, smooth and rounded. The only slightly disappointing element is the touch of roughness on the finish (this is if you don't count the dreadfully dated, some would say retro, packaging that has a mock leather/formica effect and a wishy washy watercolour painting on it!). A bottle should cost £30-35 from specialist whisky retailers.