Whisky Magazine Issue 23
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Ian Buxton peeks behind the scenes at one of Scotland's most enduring distilleries
Two large Highlanders stand sentinel at Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William. On arrival they gave me a distinctly guarded welcome. They shook their long shaggy hair, snorting, and I was sure I heard a hoof pawing the ground. But then Ben and Nevis, the distillery mascots, are Highland cattle – magnificent beasts bred for the hills and inclined to greet effete southerners (especially ones from Edinburgh) with appropriate disdain.
These must be the most photographed Highland cattle in Scotland because, even as I watched, a busload of enthusiastic tourists bound for the distillery's visitor centre shot off several rolls of film on two very media-savvy animals. Ben and Nevis are just the public face of this interesting distillery, though. Absorbing as they are, things get better as you move inside.
I began by interviewing Managing Director Colin Ross, a loyal whisky man since 1965, when he began by polishing the corridors at Strathisla – albeit with the impressive title of Assistant Manager. “I started on January 2nd” he recalls, “and I think they'd forgotten I was coming. The Manager opened his office store cupboard, my hopes rose, but he produced a giant tin of wax and left me to get on with it!”
Today Colin runs Ben Nevis on behalf of its Japanese owners the Nikka Whisky Distilling Company, who distill malt whisky at Yoichi on the northern island of Hokkaido and at a larger plant at Sendai, 200 miles from their Tokyo head office. Nikka traces its roots back to 1...