New Whiskies

Batch 151

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Batch 151: Ben Nevis, Highland Park

Only two distilleries for Dave Broom to tackle this week, and it’s a pair with strong, distinctive identities: Ben Nevis and Highland Park.

All bar one of the whiskies are independently bottled, from Cadenhead and Valinch & Mallet (the Ben Nevis duo), to a trio of Highland Parks in Gordon & MacPhail’s revamped Connoisseurs’ Choice range, and one OB from the Orkney distillery.

Ben Nevis continues to be its idiosyncratic self, Broom finds; it’s ‘kinda wrong, but oh so right’ and puts him in mind of a dive bar and some dirty blues.

Meanwhile, Gordon & MacPhail’s Highland Park threesome offers examples using first-fill Sherry and first-fill Bourbon, including an intriguing comparison between two whiskies from the same year and the same cask type.

In musical terms, that moves Broom from blues to deep soul, lifting his heart in the process. Click on the links in ‘Right Place, Right Time’ for the Spotify playlist.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Ben Nevis 21 Years Old, 1996 (Cadenhead)

    Ben Nevis 21 Years Old, 1996 (Cadenhead)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    52.9%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Big, with that savoury, earthy, slightly grubby meaty grunt you expect from the distillery, but there’s also this rather lovely aroma of almost rum-like esters: pineapple, decaying mango. Robust is the word. Dilution doesn’t diminish the power, but adds in some beef dripping, fried potato scone and waxed fruits – lemon especially.

    Palate

    An all-enveloping effect. It has a thick, chewy, almost buttery element which coats the mouth: that mix of nut oil, a rich (almost treacly) maltiness and, though it flattens slightly in the centre, it has length and picks up in power on the back-palate. Water provides some coherence, managing to pull together that mix of oils, old coins, cereal, meat and overripe fruit.

    Finish

    Burnt chestnuts.

    Conclusion

    It’s kinda wrong, but oh so right.

    Right place, right time

    Sitting in a dive bar listening to RL Burnside.

    Ben Nevis 19 Years Old, 1999 (Valinch & Mallet)

    Ben Nevis 19 Years Old, 1999 (Valinch & Mallet)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    51.7%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    A slightly creamy, caramel start alongside an almost lactic element. This one is very resinous (French polish and freshly-applied varnish), then dried orange peel and mace. Rich and wood-driven, but there is enough of the fat, rounded spirit to balance. The Ben Nevis weirdness here comes in the form of a whiff of burning hair. Water snaps the wood into sharper focus: freshly-felled pine tree, though it does settle down in time to allow some black berry fruits to come through.

    Palate

    Big, thick and oily and, as the nose suggests, the wood’s got the upper hand to start with. The citrus and bruised fruits on the mid-palate do, however, give some balance before classic Ben Nevis oiliness comes though. Water makes things lighter, there’s a hit of liquorice and more of the black fruits (now with added chocolate), but hitting the best balance is tricky as the wood always wants to spring clear.

    Finish

    Lightly tannic.

    Conclusion

    Suitably boisterous.

    Right place, right time

    Still in that dive bar, surrounded by Whiskey and Wimmen.

    Highland Park 2004, Batch 18/016 Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)

    Highland Park 2004, Batch 18/016 Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    60%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islands
    Availability
    UK & Europe
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Rounded, thick and polished, with a toffee-like start. The Sherry cask has added a dried fruit, prune-like depth, but comes over as another layer in the mix rather than an over-dominant element. There’s plenty of fruit, leather, plum, then some drying peat, heather root and fragrant smoke. The alcohol is well-controlled. As it opens, so it gains in weight and seriousness, and drifts towards a beeswax-like maturity. Give it time and more funky undertones come through. Water doesn’t diminish the effect; there’s still plenty of rich, dark fruits, now with extra meatiness (jamon and pimentón), tonka and vetiver. Complex and balanced.

    Palate

    The layering effect suggested by the nose is in full evidence here: clove, star anise, date and raisin are all there, alongside ginger snap biscuits, marmalade and a hit of sweet spice and a silky feel. Though cask-driven, the distillery character is never obscured. Water gives the smoked element more punch, while the fruits sweeten and deepen (into hedgerow jams now, along with a touch of liquorice and dusty ivy), but balanced by a gentle, tongue-coating honeyed element. Really good.

    Finish

    Smoke and light, sweet spice.

    Conclusion

    Maturation in a first-fill Sherry cask has given this a sense of being rooted in place. This is an old-style Highland Park which we don’t see often enough these days.

    Right place, right time

    One of those long, mellow evenings when you Never Can Say Goodbye.

    Highland Park 1999, Batch 18/019, Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)

    Highland Park 1999, Batch 18/019, Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.6%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islands
    Availability
    UK & Europe
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    A crisp and slightly smoky start, with hints of nut, light, heathery smoke, oven-warm hot cross buns with butter, toffee and a mature, almost leathery note. There’s a slight (and unusual) minerality adding a sharpness to the range of soft fruits. Everything is slightly held in check. Water adds a whiff of turmeric, moorland heat and a slightly oilier effect, mixing well with the honeyed, Oolong-like plump peachy fruits and coconut.

    Palate

    A sweet and concentrated start, with the smoke coming in early. The oak is balanced, with a touch of After Eight mint. There’s a sensation of the spirit passing over a ridge of cereal in the centre of the tongue before dropping into a pool of mellow, slightly honeyed fruits on the back-palate. When neat, there’s a linear element at work here, with a slightly tight structure and some dry oak, while the retronasal effect adds in cereal accents. Water helps to fill out that body, adding some sweetness and creating more of a flow and a slow build through woodsmoke, overripe banana, apricot purée, boiled sweets, syrup and citrus.

    Finish

    Smoky and slightly minty.

    Conclusion

    This is a focused example from a first-fill Bourbon cask with enough soft richness to give balance.

    Right place, right time

    Adding anything more would be like Pouring Water on a Drowning Man.

    Highland Park 1999, Batch 18/018, Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)

    Highland Park 1999, Batch 18/018, Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    56%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islands
    Availability
    Selected markets excluding UK & Europe
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Aromatic smoke is immediately apparent, but this is also sweeter, more broad and open than its sister. There’s more overt fruit: poached pear, a little mango, with added osmanthus, light cedar tones and, in time, a more heathery element with added violet. There’s substance here, and water adds in sweeter elements of hot pastry, apricot and cream – as well as more smoke that’s now heading into moor burn/sage. An added lemon note gives lift.

    Palate

    Quite chewy and sweet to start, with some heat as well as a lemon verbena accent. The smoke seems to circle back, adding complexity as you exhale. As it develops, so more caramelised fruits emerge. Water makes it chewier again, with great integration between the various elements. Allowing it to settle in the glass gives you the full effect of the tropical fruits, mixed with smoke and honey and toffee.

    Finish

    Refreshingly prickly, with long pepper and star anise.

    Conclusion

    Another first-fill Bourbon cask, this is a sweeter style, but is still identifiably Highland Park.

    Right place, right time

    Same distillery, same year, same cask type. Are they Two of a Kind?

    Highland Park 17 Years Old ‘The Light’

    Highland Park 17 Years Old ‘The Light’
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    52.9%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islands
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    Slightly dry, with fresh, pear-like fruit, light heat and hints of cream. The smoke (and the wood) lie low in the mix, preferring to let white chocolate and banana take the front stage. In time, a grassy element is introduced, along with fleshy fruits and grapefruit. Water makes it more intense and brings out the smoke, alongside bleached wood, yellow fruit and pollen. Has the slight minerality of the second of the G&M bottlings (see above).

    Palate

    If the nose starts dry, then the palate begins sweetly with lots of vanilla, then tangerine marmalade, honey and a hint of beeswax. There’s a lemon-like note, but it has more of a spicy, coriander effect. The smoke seems negligible. When water is added, you pick out a light tobacco edge (cigarette box), some mint and a more bracing spiciness.

    Finish

    Light touch of smoke.

    Conclusion

    The lightest of the quartet. Sweet and balanced.

    Right place, right time

    Teasing But You’re Pleasing.

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