After a little research, it's actually a port cask 'finish', but that finish was a little longer than the usual 6-12 months. This whisky was distilled back in 1990, and matured in refill sherry hogsheads for 13 years, then 'finished', for 8 years, in a ruby port cask. It was then bottled without chill filtration, at cask strength, which was 59.8%, a good showing for a 21 year old whisky.
But what about this distillery I had never heard of? Well, it turns out Ben Nevis distillery is among some of the oldest in Scotland, having been founded in 1825. Just ten years younger than Laphroaig and Ardbeg, then. The distillery is named after the highest mountain in the United Kingdom, in the Scottish Highlands, and is situated near the base of it's namesake, near the town of Fort William. A good chunk of the movie Braveheart was actually filmed nearby, and Fort William is steeped in real history, such as the Jacobite rebellion.
Interestingly, the distillery has been owned by Japanese company Nikka since 1989, and is the company's only distillery located outside of Japan. Most Ben Nevis whisky seems to go into blends, but not any high profile ones, as far as I can determine. There are a few single malts available though, a few independent bottlings, and a few single cask releases, which is what this 21yo is. Although they got 800+ bottles out of said cask, so I'm guessing it was a single port pipe. Anyway, on to the good stuff. Or, perhaps not...
Ben Nevis 21yo, single cask, Port finish. 59.8% cask strength, Fort William, Scotland.
Distilled in 1990, matured for 13 years in refill sherry hogsheads, 'finished' in ruby port casks for another 8 years. Non-chill filtered.
Colour: Dark red, pink tinges.
Nose: Sweet, rich fruit, a little spice. Red grapes, Ribena blackcurrant juice, but in the form of syrup or concentrate.
Texture: Rich & syrupy.
Taste: Not nearly as sweet as the nose, quite musty, in fact. A little heat, some red grapes and pepper, dry wood, blackcurrants, but unsweetened this time, and a hint of bitter orange or marmalade.
Finish: Medium length, some bitter wood and spice, tannins. Becoming quite bitter actually, like the residue in an empty glass of heavy red wine, and the morning after you drank too much of it. Or any of it, in my case...
Score: 2 out of 5.
Notes: The nose was nice, but the taste, and particularly the finish, were a real let-down. Certainly qualifies as something different, at least! Maybe the port pipe/cask has just dominated the spirit, and hasn't behaved very well, I don't know. But I'm not digging it. I would be digging it far less if I had bought a whole bottle, though. The magic of samples, saving the day once again. Love it.
This sample was in a sample pack I bought a while back, which contained samples of the top ten whiskies from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013. I wouldn't put this one anywhere near my top 50, but it actually placed third in the top ten, for some reason. Still, glad I tried it, it would be another distillery to tick off the list, if I was keeping a list.
That said, one bottling is not enough to judge a distillery on, the distillery may still do great work. I'm yet to taste any of their other expressions, official or otherwise (independent).