Ben Nevis distillery

Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

The washbacks are wooden and, more significantly, brewer’s yeast is used, making this the last distillery in Scotland to insist on this old way of inducing fermentation. Distillation is slow and steady, giving a rich, deep distillate which matures well in ex-Sherry casks where a ripe, chewy texture is produced.

  • Region
  • Production type
    Blended Scotch
    Single grain
    Single malt
  • Distillery Status

Ben Nevis History

It was in 1825 that ‘Long’ John Macdonald took out a licence for his Ben Nevis distillery on the outskirts of Fort William and close to Britain’s highest mountain. His son Peter took up the reins soon after and built a significant business. By the end of the 19th century, when blended Scotch was becoming the fashion, Long John’s Dew of Ben Nevis was a successful single malt brand.

Such was the popularity of the MacDonald’s whisky that Peter built a second distillery, ‘Nevis’, which ran in tandem with the original unit. At one point, over 200 people were employed in this virtual whisky city.

This golden age was not to last. In 1908 Nevis closed and its sister plant operated intermittently until 1941 when the colourful Canadian entrepreneur (and former bootlegger) Joseph Hobbs bought the firm. The Long John brand name had already been sold to Seager Evans, and Hobbs sold off the former Nevis site to Associated Scottish Distilleries. Closed during WWII, Hobbs restarted production in 1955 when he installed a Coffey still. He then started to blend his malt and grain together before maturing.

The distillery fell silent in 1978, but production started again, along with much needed refurbishment, in 1981 when it was bought, appropriately enough, by Long John International – by then the whisky division of the brewer Whitbread. In 1989, Long John sold it to the Japanese distiller Nikka which had been buying malt and grain from the distillery for a number of years.

Ben Nevis has continued in production and has split its whisky between bulk supplies for Japan, the Dew of Ben Nevis and Macdonalds of Glencoe blends, and single malt bottlings, which start with a 10-year-old expression but in recent years have been extended to include Macdonald’s Traditional Ben Nevis which includes smokier components. Whisky from one of the last ‘Blended At Birth’ casks appeared as a 40-year-old in 2002.


  • 1825 ‘Long’ John Macdonald licenses Ben Nevis distillery near the landmark mountain
  • 1856 Long John dies, passing the distillery down to his son, Donald P. Macdonald
  • 1878 Demand for Macdonald’s whisky is so great that Long John’s son, Peter, builds a second distillery, Nevis, nearby
  • 1908 Nevis distillery is closed and used for bonded warehousing as part of the Ben Nevis estate
  • 1941 The distillery is sold to Ben Nevis Distillery, headed by Canadian entrepreneur Joseph Hobbs
  • 1955 Hobbs installs a Coffey still, making Ben Nevis Scotland’s first dual-operational distillery
  • 1964 Joseph Hobbs passes away
  • 1978 Ben Nevis ceases production
  • 1981 Production resumes after being purchased by Long John Distillers, owned by Whitbread
  • 1984 Following a £2 million restoration, Ben Nevis resumes production once again but minus the Coffey still, returning the distillery to solely malt distillation once more
  • 1986 The distillery closes just two years after refurbishment
  • 1989 Ben Nevis is purchased by Nikka Whisky Distilling Company and reopened a year later with a visitors’ centre added in 1991
  • 1996 Ben Nevis 10 Year Old, the heart of the brand’s portfolio, is launched

Ben Nevis Facts

  • Capacity (mlpa) i
  • Condenser Type i
    Shell and tube
  • Fermentation Time i
    48hrs, longer at weekends
  • Filling Strength i
  • Grist Weight (t) i
  • Heat Source i
  • Malt Specification i
    Normally Speyside Type, low/occasionally 30-35ppm
  • Malt Supplier i
    Various, usually all major U.K. malt supplier companies
  • Mash Tun Material i
    Stainless Steel
  • Mash Tun Type i
    Lauter (Newmill)
  • New-make Strength i
  • Spirit Still Shape i
    Plain, deep base
  • Spirit Still Size (l) i
  • Stills i
    4 (2 Wash, 2 Spirit)
  • Warehousing i
    5 dunnage plus 1 racked
  • Wash Still Charge (l) i
  • Wash Still Shape i
    Plain, with a large, deep, straight sided bottom
  • Wash Still Size (l) i
  • Washback Size (l) i
  • Washback Type i
    6 Steel, 2 Pine
  • Washbacks i
  • Water Source i
    Allt a Mhullin burn
  • Wort Clarity i
  • Yeast Type i


Parent company

Current owner

Previous owners

  • Whitbread & Co 1981 - 1989
  • Joseph W Hobbs 1955 - 1981
  • DP MacDonald & Sons 1856 - 1955
  • John MacDonald 1825 - 1856


Ben Nevis Distillery
Lochy Bridge
Fort William
PH33 6TJ
United Kingdom
+44 1397 700200
Visitor Opening Hours
9.30am to 5pm
9.30am to 5pm
9.30am to 5pm
9.30am to 5pm
9.30am to 5pm
10am to 4pm (Easter-Sept)
noon to 4pm (July and Aug)


See also

  • Ben Nevis Distillery (Fort William) Ben Nevis Distillery (Fort William) Ben Nevis Distillery (Fort William) Distiller & blender

    Ben Nevis Distillery (Fort William)

    An arm of Nikka Whisky Distilling Co.

  • Glenlochy Glenlochy Glenlochy Distillery & brand


    Nineteenth century Highland malt distillery once operated by Canadian whisky baron Joseph Hobbs.

  • Fort Augustus Fort Augustus Fort Augustus Distillery

    Fort Augustus

    The lost distillery of Fort Augustus was also known as Glentarff in the 1850s.

  • Monkey Shoulder Monkey Shoulder Monkey Shoulder Brand

    Monkey Shoulder

    While its name references a long-forgotten ailment, Monkey Shoulder is a thoroughly modern whisky.

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