Wednesday, July 07, 2010

nevis say nevis again

Just to contradict myself with regard to my confident assertion that I'd done all the blog posts relating to the Scotland trip, here's the definitely definitively final loose end to tidy up: whisky. It had been our original intention to do a couple of distilleries during our visit, the second one being the Tobermory distillery, but once we checked out the price of tickets on the Mull ferry and discovered that CalMac were planning to charge us about 80 quid for the privilege we had a bit of a rethink and decided not to bother.

So we were left with the Ben Nevis distillery, on the north-eastern outskirts of Fort William. Strangely, despite Fort William being a huge centre for outdoor activity, and the distillery being one of the oldest in Scotland (founded in 1825), Ben Nevis whisky is not particularly widely known or celebrated. None of which stopped us from booking in for a distillery tour for the very reasonable price of four quid. Your tour ticket gets you a pretty basic tour of the distillery, a look around the warehouse and a discount off a bottle of their ten-year-old single malt, which of course we cashed in.

What you immediately notice on the way round, as well as in the shop, is that not much time or money has been spent on updating the decor since about, oooh, 1973. You can see the same thing when you look at the bottle in the picture - check out the faux-leather effect on the box, and the beige and faded landscape picture effect on the bottle. Ben Nevis are owned by Japanese company Nikka, whose priorities obviously don't include marketing. It's quite a contrast with places like Glengoyne which have really embraced the whole commercial thing.

Clearly, though, your lavishly appointed gift emporium and funky modern labelling don't count for a hill of beans in this crazy world if your whisky is undrinkable; conversely it shouldn't matter if your distillery shop is peopled by sub-human trolls and wallpapered with the rack-stretched skin of cruelly slaughtered babies if the whisky is good. And so it proves.

The nearest distillery to Ben Nevis is Oban, and sure enough that's the whisky this is most similar to: nice and sweet and toasty, but with just a gentle smoky punch in the throat at the end. The Oban is slightly more rubbery and sulphurous than this, though (but in a good way); imagine a cross between the Oban and something a bit more sherried like the Dalmore or the Aberlour and you wouldn't be far off. It's bottled at a beefy 46%, but unlike the Bruichladdich or the Penderyn you'd never know it.

So what we've learnt here is this: this is really good whisky, better than many cooked up in places with much larger budgets for things like advertising, emulsion paint and Polyfilla. I do think if Nikka expended a bit of effort into at least funking up the bottles and packaging a bit they could raise the profile and sales considerably, but I guess they feel they're ticking over nicely and don't need to bother.

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