Ben Nevis is located in the western Highlands of Scotland, in the town of Fort William. The distillery takes its name from the mountain that towers above it. At 1,345 metres above sea level, Ben Nevis is the highest peak in the British Isles.
The distillery was established back in 1825 but today it is run by the Nikka Whisky Distilling Company of Japan.
Ben Nevis produces a robust spirit with a malty character and notes of waxy fruits and subtle smoke.
Ageing in American oak ex-bourbon whiskey casks gives notes of vanilla, caramel and gentle spice. Maturation in ex-sherry casks creates more of a chocolatey, dried fruits character.
Brewer’s yeast is used during the fermentation process. This has a lesser yield than distiller’s yeast but helps to create flavour and mouthfeel.
Distillation takes place in two wash stills and two spirit stills.
Spirit matures in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks though wine casks also feature. Onsite warehousing takes the form of both traditional dunnage-style and modern racked warehousing.
Ben Nevis produces a single malt of exceptional quality but much of the spirit is transported to Japan for use in Nikka products. A core range comprises the 10-year-old and Macdonald's Traditional bottlings. Special limited-edition releases include the Batch No 1 Cask Strength expression.
Ben Nevis distillery was founded in 1825 by Angus McDonnell. On the staff was a young man named John Macdonald. Nicknamed Long John, thanks to a height of 6 foot 4, Macdonald was made a partner in 1830.
Long John Macdonald was larger than life. In the years before working at Ben Nevis, he ran an illicit still on the mountainside. After going legitimate, he was attacked by a band of smugglers, enraged at his decision. Not to be intimated, Long John fought them off with a few swings of his walking stick.
Macdonald was a talented salesman. He made a habit of sending his spirit to the great and good so that he could use their name to sell his whisky. In 1848, he sent a cask to Buckingham Palace, to be opened on the event of the Prince of Wales’ 21st birthday.
Despite achieving moderate success, Long John had borrowed heavily to gain a controlling interest in the distillery. When his debtors came calling, he was unable to pay. He was declared bankrupt in 1856 and passed away shortly after.
Following his death, Long John’s son Peter was able to raise enough capital to reclaim the distillery. Under his stewardship, the business flourished.
Peter Macdonald bottled his spirit as Long John’s Dew of Ben Nevis Pure Highland Malt. It was so popular, he decided to build a second distillery to keep up with demand. At its peak, the site was producing more spirit than anywhere else in Scotland.
Peter died in 1891 and Ben Nevis passed to his sons. However, the early 20th century was a difficult time for the blended Scotch industry. Peter's second distillery was forced to close in 1908 and never resumed production.
The old Ben Nevis continued to distil intermittently until it was bought in the 1950s by Joseph Hobbs. Hobbs installed a continuous still so that he might produce both grain and malt whiskies on the same premises.
In 1981, Hobbs’ son sold to Long John International but another industry downturn saw production grind to a halt once more. In 1989, the distillery and all its stocks were purchased by Japanese distilling giant, Nikka.