Thursday, 27 August 2015

#Heelslayer: 1995 Ben Nevis (Blackadder Clydesdale Label, 15 Years, 59.5% ABV NCA/NCF)

     Well it's been a while, and a crazy summer for myself!  It seems like it's hard to settle down and write something meaningful and eloquent when it's so nice outside.  Instead of penning another ode to a dram, I've searched my open bottles and decided to write out some notes on my heels.  Below is the first of my tasting notes on a selection of drams from my #heelslayer weekend project.

     First up come form the dew of Ben Nevis... or so they call it.  Long John McDonald founded the distillery in 1825 at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom, where the cool mountain air condenses into the two pools from which the distillery draws her water. Popular enough that by 1878 a second distiller had to be built next door which eventually was amalgamated back into the Ben Nevis of today.  The most recent change of hands in 1989, was to the Japanese Nikka company, who still produces the malt to this day.

     The bottle that I'm reviewing today comes form the Clydesdale independent bottler lineup under the Blackadder label.  Aged 15 years in sherry cask (likely a refill), number 0350/2626 and bottled at a whopping 59.5% ABV without any chill filtration or colouring.  I tried this bottle many moons ago and was astonished that something so high on the ABV scale could seem so approachable.  This was my first foray into cask strength drams, and it was a more that pleasant experience, and cemented my love of independent drams that can actually display the  character of the distillery.

  • Colour:  Bright straw gold.  No colour added.
  • Body:  Thin to medium.  Very tiny drops and thin legs, slow run back to the glass.  No chill filtration happening here either!
  • Nose:  Bright and lively!  Hay (cut and dried), and fruits., hints of flowers and very subtle malt.  Rich pastry notes with apricot and peach schnapps.  Pineapple upside down cake, hints of vanilla and varnish.  Yellow plums, flint and dry cocoa in the bottom with hints of lemon and mint in the background. 
  • Palate:  Surprising power here, but not in the way you'd think.  That almost 60% ABV still comes across as soft and dignified like a 43-46% dram.  The power comes with the wallop of flavour it brings with it!  Spice and wood notes start up with a brine note playing second fiddle.  The malt comes in strong next with more pineapple in tow.  A warm fruit compote with some sort of... what I can only describe as yellow flowers.  Roots and rich gobs of dried fruit (papaya), shortly follow this up with a wood smoke or cocoa dryness.  The cocoa comes in a little more strongly as it transitions towards the finish with just a slight hint of struck match  in the background.
  • Finish:  The heat shows up here from the ABV, but it still doesn't overwhelm the finish. Daisy... or maybe cooked daisies with more yellow plums (also cooked).  Good dutch cocoa and more toasted oak here.  Some astringent notes, specifically astringent peach, and a rather hot dryness.  The dryness is very welcome as shortly afterwards your mouth begins watering; yearning for the next sip!
  • Empty Glass: Wood smoke and cherry cough syrup.  Coffee dregs and pineapple vodka (not sweet though).  Wood spices and play-dough , citrus and some bitter almond in the bottom.  Almost hints of grilled peach and fruit salts (is there such a thing as fruit salt?  I'm thinking a salt that has a yellow fruit note...).
    What can I say?  This was a fantastic dram, filled with stone fruit, yellow flowers and malty goodness.  Loads of baking spices in the palate and a finish that leaves your mouth watering, leaving  you craving another.  I was amazed that high ABV could come across so smoothly, which attests to the quality of the spirit; it even fooled me on my first tasting.  Water tames some of the wood spices and brings a more soft floral malty note to the whisky, but it doesn't seem to be needed in this dram.  Should you ever see this listed in a bar, I highly recommend that you taste it as I don't think you'll be disappointed.  Until next time: keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.

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