Ben Nevis – Distillery Deep Dive

Ben Nevis Distillery (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Ben Nevis single malt whisky is so popular that almost every independent bottler has one or more bottling under their belts. It is also a source of great interest for cask owners. Recently, news of regulating Japanese whiskies have also put Ben Nevis back into the limelight – for the wrong reasons.

As there are a lot of interest around Ben Nevis, we wanted to give all our cask owners a better understanding of the distillery. Let us head over to Fort William (in our imagination, unfortunately) and check Ben Nevis out!

Location of Distillery

Ben Nevis Distillery sits at the base of the highest mountain in the British Isles. The mountain, Ben Nevis, rises 1345m above sea level. The distillery is at Lochy Bridge, Fort William, and in fact, can be seen from the road if you drive across town. As a coastal distillery in the Western Highlands, Ben Nevis draws water from the Allt a’Mhulinn.

History of Ben Nevis Distillery

The story started in 1825, when “Long” John Macdonald took out a license for Ben Nevis Distillery. He selected the site on the outskirts of Fort William, close to the mountain, Ben Nevis. His son, Donald Peter Macdonald, took up the reins after his death in 1856 and built a successful business. By the end of the 19th century, Long John’s Dew of Ben Nevis was a popular single malt brand in the fashionable world of blended Scotch whisky. Peter built a second distillery named “Nevis” during the boom period of their whisky brand. It ran in tandem with the original unit and both distilleries employed over 200 people in the city.

However, the heydays passed and Nevis closed down in 1908. Peter sold the Long John brand name to Seager Evans in a bit to survive during those dark days. Ben Nevis operated intermittently until 1941, when Joseph Hobbs (a Canadian entrepreneur and former bootlegger) bought the distillery. He sold off the Nevis site to Associated Scottish Distilleries and rebuilt Ben Nevis.

Hobbs restarted production only in 1955 when he installed a Coffey still in the distillery. He also started blending his malt and grain new make together before maturing them. These malt and grain casks are now treasures from Ben Nevis Distillery, a legacy that Hobbs left behind.

The distillery mothballed in 1978 and Hobbs sold it to Long John International, the whisky division of Whitbread (brewer). After much needed refurbishment, production restarted in 1981 under the new owner. Business resumed and the distillery began to sell malt and grain whiskies to Japanese distiller, Nikka. By 1989, Whitbread sold the distillery to Nikka, where it remains to this day.

Whisky from Ben Nevis Distillery

Ben Nevis is known for having much of its liquids shipped off to Japan. However, it does have its own bottling. Under the blends, the Dew of Ben Nevis and Macdonalds of Glencoe are popular (but perhaps not so in Singapore). The single malt bottlings, which are elusive, sports a 10-year old and a 21-year old. There are also other limited edition bottlings such as the cask strength 10 Years old batches. If you remember the malt and grain casks that Hobbs left behind, these are released as high age bottlings such as the “Blended At Birth” 40 Years Old.

The strength of Ben Nevis bottlings comes from the single cask market, where many independent bottlers put up excellent Ben Nevis expressions. Some of the most delicious bottlings come from the 1995 and 1996 distillates (over 20 years old), and the younger bottlings tend to come from the 2011 and 2014 distillates. Ben Nevis distillate is rich and deep. The strong characteristics give the whisky an excellent base for maturation in both bourbon and sherry casks.

Ben Nevis in bourbon casks often sports rich fruits, sweet vanilla and sometimes, just a hint of coconut. It also has what a lot of people called the “Ben Nevis funk” – an extra layer of deliciousness that is often unexplainable. On the other hand, Ben Nevis in sherry casks are rich, with dark fruits, stewed fruits and a chewy texture. It also sports the “Ben Nevis funk”. Whisky drinkers across the world fell in love with Ben Nevis for many reasons, but most of all, they fall in love with the richness of the spirit character.

You can find peated Ben Nevis bottlings too. While they may not be widely available, you do find some floating in the market if you look hard enough.

Production at Ben Nevis Distillery

Ben Nevis Distillery has a capacity of 1.5 million litres per annum. Fermentation time takes at least 48 hours and it’s always longer over the weekends. It uses stainless steel lauter mash tun, 2 copper wash stills and 2 copper spirits stills. They source malt barley from various companies, and occasionally will buy peated malt at 30-35ppm. Their heat source is steam.

The distillery owns 5 dunnage and 1 racked warehouses. They mature their whiskies on site. Their new make comes off the spirit still at 70% abv and they casked the whiskies at around 63.4 to 63.5% abv, as per industry standard.

The Future of Ben Nevis Distillery

We see a bright future for Ben Nevis Distillery even though it does not put out a lot of whiskies for its core range. The fact that you don’t get many Ben Nevis whiskies as its core range makes the whisky desirable to many fans and independent bottlers alike. While the Japanese whisky regulation may dampen some of the demand for its distillate from Japan, we doubt that the distillery will suddenly increase its output for a core range. More than ever, we see Ben Nevis Distillery taking on a different approach, selling its young casks to whisky brokers who will then, sell them on to whisky cask owners. As the supply continues to be limited to specific groups of people within the industry, we believe that demand for the whisky will continue to be strong.

Whisky Cask Ownership

If you are keen to explore Ben Nevis casks, please contact us at for more information.

Doing Your Due Diligence – As a Potential Cask Owner

We live in an unpredictable world right now. With Covid-19 still raging in many parts of the world, the global economy is facing a huge challenge. International travels come to a halt and some people realised the spare cash could potentially go into a proper investment. 

At the same time, alternative investments such as whisky casks, watches and fine art are on the rise. The reason is quite apparent – the stocks and property markets are too volatile to venture into without high risks.

Unfortunately, the weak economy also gives rise to scammers looking to make quick bucks. If you are in the market shopping for Scotch whisky casks as a potential alternative investment, here are some of the things that you can do. Doing your due diligence to check the companies offering whisky casks is vital to protect your investments. Do note that the below apply only to the UK and Scotch whisky casks.

Ask for the company’s WOWGR 

All companies in Scotland that have the permission to hold goods in duty suspension in a bonded warehouse have a document called a WOWGR. HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) gives out the WOWGR and all companies need to have this license in order to trade in duty suspension.

In order to apply for a WOWGR, a company needs to present the following information to HMRC:
– A business plan, including evidence of a commercial need for a WOWGR
– Details of trading partners and the due diligence on said partners
– Types of trading products
– Clear evidence on who is undertaking the movements of these products
– Cash flows
– Insurances
– Published Accounts
– Profit and losses

Officers from HMRC will also visit the place of the business to conduct a detailed interview before approval. After issuing the WOWGR, HMRC also expects the company to inform the officer-in-charge if there is any major changes (such as a change in trading partners) to update the WOWGR. The stringent checks put in place by HMRC provide a layer of protection by screening the company and ensuring that they are a proper legal entity.

Request for the company’s VAT & EORI number

The UK VAT number is similar to Singapore’s GST number. It is essentially a unique ID that HMRC provides to businesses when they register for VAT. In the UK, the VAT numbers are nine digits long and may or may not have the prefix “GB”.

It is also important for companies who offers to bottle your casks and ship them out to you to have the EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification) number. Without the EORI, the company will not be able to ship them out as duty-suspended goods. Therefore, if you are planning to bottle your cask eventually, make sure that you check for both the VAT and EORI numbers.

When you ask for a VAT number, you should also check that the VAT number is valid. The UK government provides a system to check for the validity of the number. If the company has a valid VAT number, the system will show the validity together with the registered business address.

The EORI number can also be checked. The UK government provides this website for everyone to check for the validity of the EORI number.

Check for the company’s AWRS number 

AWRS is known as the “Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme” in the UK. Any business that want to sell alcohol must apply for AWRS. Without the approval, the business is illegal and will face penalties from HMRC.

A company needs to apply for AWRS if all of the following apply:
– the business sells, or arranges the sale of alcohol, and has an establishment in the UK
– the sales are made at, or after, the point where excise duty is due
– any sales to other businesses are made for onward sale or supply

You need to take note that AWRS is only needed by companies that sell bottles. Therefore, if a cask broker firm trade only casks and not bottles, they will not need to have AWRS. To find out if they need an AWRS, you can go to their website and find out if they also trade bottles. As long as they trade bottles of alcohol, you can be sure that the business will need a AWRS.

Once you obtained the number of the company’s AWRS, you can check for its validity at this website. It is provided by the UK government and will help you to verify that the AWRS is valid.

Similar to the WOWGR, the business must inform HMRC of any changes to the company’s details as soon as possible. Important changes such as a change in partners, directors, trading name, VAT number and contact details must be notified no later than 14 days from the date of change.

Read up on the company

The next crucial thing to do is to research the company that you want to buy the whisky cask from. It is important that you know who they are, what they specialise in, and how they can help you to achieve your investment targets.

Search for their website and social media pages to see what they regularly do. Look out for any reviews that they may have online. You can also drop an email or a call to the company to see their responses to your questions.

Ultimately, you will need to trust the company when you finally part with your cash to buy a whisky cask.

Look for the annual financial returns

To look at the annual financial returns of a company, head over to Companies House, a website in the UK which records all the registrations AND annual returns of a company registered in the UK. As long as the company is registered in the UK, you will find it there.

A financially healthy company faces lesser risks of bankruptcy, collapse or foreclosure in a weak economy. Buying a whisky cask with a healthy company also safeguard your investment as the process can take longer than you think to sort out. If a company collapse before you receive the Certificate of Title of the cask you bought, it may be tricky for you to prove that the cask belongs to you. 


We hope that the article is helpful to everyone, especially those of you who are considering to buy a whisky cask as an alternative investment. If you would like to read more, you can read up on Excise Notice 196. It is a section of UK’s law regarding the excise goods and has comprehensive information on all of the above points discussed. Should you have any further questions on any of the above points, or wish to ask for more information about whisky casks, please contact us at and we will get back to you as soon as possible.