This is the simple story of a whisky, a very good whisky…
It begins in 1995 with a man eagerly perusing the whisky shelves at Regional Wines in Wellington. It’s not the first time he’s done this and he’s caught the eye of the store owner. Soon the two are chatting about all things whisky and have formulated a plan to start tastings in the small and unassuming room upstairs. Little do they know, this is the beginning of a long and fruitful endeavour.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Robin Tucek and John Lamond are also concocting whisky plans. They purchase their first cask and bottle it under the name of Blackadder, and thus is born a new independent label which will also go on to great things.
A year later, in the damp cold of the Scottish Highlands, the stills at Ben Nevis distillery are working hard. The distillation here is long and steady which results in a rich distillate that is perfect for sherry casks. Fittingly, on the 6th day of December 1996, 500 litres (or thereabouts) of liquid gold finds a happy home inside sherry butt number 2203.
The slow and steady ethos of the distillery is echoed through this cask, which slumbers for over 20 years until it changes hands and finds a new owner. Finally it is deemed to have become the whisky it was destined to be and is bottled by Blackadder in June 2022 at the ripe old age of 25. It is given the slightly austere and bureaucratic name of Blackadder Ben Nevis 25 YO '96 Statement 41, but, hey, as we know, one should never judge a whisky by its name.
This bottling date is significant as it tees the whisky up nicely for an eventual encounter at the rescheduled Dramfest, on 4th March 2023 in Christchurch, New Zealand.
It is here that the final chapter in our whisky’s story begins to unfold.
This is obviously a very special whisky (Statement 41 no less!) and finds itself at Dramfest in the exclusive whisky set that resides under the table, and which can prove tricky to get one’s hands on. Fortunately, our aforementioned whisky-shelf-perusing-Wellingtonian, who goes by the name of Daniel, sniffs it out and spreads the word.
It is a stunning drop which, thankfully, is also available in very limited quantities, and despite its weighty price tag, three bottles make their way to Regional Wines. One is destined for a Best of Dramfest tasting which will, rather presumptuously, leave two bottles for the end of year tasting to which only the very best drams of the year are invited.
Of course, to make it to the grand finale, it should ideally win its tasting, and this it does, but perhaps not as convincingly as one would have hoped. With a score below nine and the Whisky Cellar House Malt 12 Year Old giving it a good run for its money, there is perhaps a slight feeling of underachievement.
But the biggest drams need a big stage on which to perform and at Best of the Best 2023, this is what our Ben Nevis gets. It shares a tasting mat with an old bottling of Glenfarclas 105, Cardrona’s Full Flight 7 YO PX cask #114 62.7%, an 18 YO Aberfeldy Rare Cask and an indie Benriach 10 YO Sherry Wood, giving it the perfect chance to prove its mettle.
Quite simply, it is in a league of its own. Layers of dried and dusty decayed fruit, mocha and black chocolate textured by Lafitte-like tannins combine with savoury old oak that could just as well be age-receded peat. It has it all and feels like it has been plucked from the cask at its very apogee. It brings more than a smile to the 80 or so happy attendees and a swathe of raised arms is the answer when asked does anyone want to score this a 10 out of 10?
So there we go, the simple tale of a mere whisky - but one (like many others) that has been shaped by so many events, people and moments, and proof that whisky is as much about what happens around it, as what ends up in the glass. No doubt there are others out there with a different tale of this whisky, but this one is ours…
Here's the order on the night and the scores...
1) Hart Brothers - Benriach 10yo Sherry Wood 57.5% 8.76
2) Aberfeldy 18 YO Exceptional Cask Series Double Cask 52% 8.37
3) Glenallachie 15 YO 46% 8.12
4) Blackadder Ben Nevis 25 YO '96 Statement 41 Raw Cask 51.9% 9.34
5) Glenfarclas 105 60% Circa 2006 8.91
6) Finlaggan Original Peaty Cask Strength 58% 8.44
7) Cardrona Full Flight 7 YO PX cask #114 62.7% 8.63
8) Tamdhu Batch #5 59.8% 8.94