Review #36: Old Malt Cask – Ben Nevis 21

This follows the same theme as the last review (Hepburn’s Choice – Balvenie 26) featuring old casks sold by independent bottlers. It is another brand under Douglas Laing umbrella. We first picked this bottle up when we wandered into K&L (a bit buzzed from trying almost every champagne in the K&L champagne tent, exceptions being the ones that ran out and Cook’s – actually… we may have tried Cook’s). One of the friendly employees asked us if we needed help while we scoured the Scotch aisle and we asked him for a recommendation. He pointed to the Old Malt Cask Ben Nevis, claiming it was one of the most “unique” whiskies he has ever had.

Let’s first get onto the review before we debrief on what we think caused this “unique-ness”.

Old Malt Cask – Ben Nevis 21
  • Score - 4/10

Tasting Notes

Nose: Instantly savory. Herbal, green, mushroom, cereal, underlying raisins, pleasant or more familiar notes as it sits. Turns a bit orange. Cabbage throughout.

Palate: Spice. Some light sherry and raisin sweetness before it turns to very hot and meaty qualities. There’s some weird cheesy residual taste and some green tomatoes. 

Finish: Odd. It reminds me of one of the times when I was very hungry and I remembered I had tossed a pizza slice in the trash can – so I dug it out and ate it :(. There’s a weird cabbage and day-old pizza component – with some sewer tossed in.


TLDR: There’s Something Rotten in Denmark

Overall: 4/10. I can’t put my finger on what went wrong. But something went terribly wrong and the distillery sold off the cask. They can certainly label it as “unique” and “weird” – all of which is true, but is that truly something you want? “Disgustingly intriguing” is a nice way of putting it.

Bought for: $99 at K&L

Unfortunately, this was the first review that I have written where I have hours of research trying to understand what can go wrong with a cask. I still haven’t quite figured it out, but a few possibilities that I have come up with are: sulfur from sulphur candles prominently used in the 90s because sherries were supposed to only be shipped in bottles not casks and thus sulphur candles were burned to keep casks from spoiling, sulphides from a bad cask, or simply a spoiled barrel that can lend a mushroom-like taste. We determined it was not “cork taint” which is when mold comes through the porous cork.

One thing I believe (tipped off a bit to the coloration) is the sherry butt that this sat in was either used several times or only seasoned with sherry briefly. The lovely familiar raisin sweetness is muted in this – but it also could have been because it was so overwhelmed with the other flavors.

The above are my own independent tasting notes, but I can also understand the official tasting notes printed on the bottle of:

  • Nose: herbal, fruity with orange and strawberry;
  • Palate: mineral, herbal, coal smoke and plum notes;
  • Finish: medium length, slightly smoky, dry and satisfying.

I find I do not necessarily disagree with any of the flavors they note, but would contend that the tasting notes tend to gloss over some of the downright disgustingly pungent (note that this is coming from a fervent Islay lover!) notes. There’s just something wrong with this that is entirely unintentional, and this is why it was not officially released by Ben Nevis.

Additional Information

  • ABV: 57.7%
  • Cask: Sherry butt
  • Age: 21 years. Distilled in Feb 1997 and bottled in July 2018
  • 483 Bottles (ref: HL15364)
  • Non-chill filtered, coloring free


  • The Ben Nevis Mountain at which the distillery sits at the base of is by far more famous than the distillery itself and the highest mountain in Britain
  • Ben Nevis Distillery is one of Scotland’s oldest and founded in 1825. It is the last distillery in Scotland to use a slow fermentation process with brewer’s yeast and wooden washbacks. Tends to favor sherry casks.
  • Ben Nevis is now owned by Nikka and much of their whiskies are exported for blending into Nikka’s blends (e.g. their Black blend).
  • Old Malt Cask is owned by Douglas Laing (along with Hepburn’s Choice, which we recently reviewed). They have shockingly low prices on very old whisky, such as a 21 year old Aberlour for $75.30, 21 year old Arran for $129.93, and 22 year old Ardmore for $107.66 (link to Whisky Barrel shop is here). When it is too good to be true it probably is.

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