A license to brew at the Ben Nevis distillery was taken out in 1825 by ‘Long’ John Macdonald. His distillery was located near the base of Britain’s highest mountain and the outskirts of Fort William. His son, Peter Macdonald, was given control shortly after the license was issued and proceeded to build a reputable distillery. At the end of the 19th century when the popularity of blended Scotch was rising, the then called ‘Long John’s Dew of Ben Nevis’ was a successful single malt brand.
Due to the success of the whisky they were producing, Peter built a second distillery. This one was known as ‘Nevis’ and operated alongside the original distillery. At one stage in the late 19th century, the distilleries employed more than 200 people. However, things changed and in 1908 Nevis had to close. The original site produced whisky on and off up until the 1940’s when Joseph Hobbs, a Canadian former bootlegger, bought the company.
By this stage the ‘Long John’ brand had been sold and therefore the distillery was renamed to Ben Nevis. The Nevis distillery had also been sold off to Associated Scottish Distilleries. The distillery had to close during World War II so Hobbs restarted production in 1955, after installing a new Coffey still. This is when he also introduced blending his malt and grain together before the maturing process began.
In 1978 the distillery was mothballed but was bought by Long John International and production restarted in 1981. Since then the distillery has changed hands a couple more times but production has continued throughout.
Ben Nevis divide their production capacity up to supply whisky for bulk shipments to Japan, single malt bottlings, Dew of Ben Nevis blends and Macdonalds of Glencoe blends. Their single malt bottlings began with a 10-year-old, but more recently they have released Macdonald’s Traditional Ben Nevis which is known to be a smokier malt. Ben Nevis are the last distillery in Scotland to use brewer’s yeast, which is an old school method of inducing fermentation. Another not so common aspect of their process is the use of wooden washbacks. They distil slowly which gives the whisky a deep, rich characteristic and they mature in ex-Sherry casks where a ripe texture forms.