I have no idea what a Cloud Chamber is. I’ve read descriptions and explanations but after a sentence or two, I get glassy eyed and wonder what bike race is happening in Europe and what whisky I’m going to have a sip of next. According to Wikipedia, a cloud chamber is used to detect particles of ionizing radiation. So there you go. What’s probably more germane to this post is that the cloud chamber was invented by a Scotsman named Charles Thomas Rees Wilson, a meteorologist, physicist, and crack bridge partner (made that last part up) from Midlothian who spent time at the sparsely decorated observatory atop Ben Nevis, the highest point on the British Isles.
Apparently, Wilson had quite a few run-ins with a Brocken Spectre, the long, distorted shadow one casts on mountain mists when lit from behind. The distortion of the shadow caused by the mist lit a fire under ol’ Chuck and he invented the Cloud Chamber as a way to re-create some of the condensation phenomena he’d witnessed up there on Ben Nevis. As arcane as all this sounds, Wilson received a Noble Prize for his work, had a crater on the moon named after him and the honor of being the namesake for the Wilson Condensation Cloud. The Wilson Condensation Cloud, of course, being the large cloud formed after, say, a nuclear explosion, for example.
All of this being an extremely random and roundabout way to mention the Ben Nevis Distillery, located surprisingly enough at the base of the Mountain that gave it its name. Ben Nevis is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland and bottles under its name not just single malts but a line of blends as well. This independent bottling from Signatory was sampled at the recent Whisky Shop/Signatory tasting in San Francisco.
The Nose: Whoa, an incredible “at the beach” nose, seaweed, fishy, smoked fishy even, and brine. Yet, at the same time, just behind that sea shore funk is some nice sherry, golden raisins, brown sugar, baked dessert, and a little lemon creme.
The Palate: Fantastic mouthfeel with a big attack of cola and salty peat. There’s still fruit present, apricots and more lemon-y-ness, but less than the nose. This was both acidic and ashy with the 17 years worth of oak staying more in the background than I thought it would.
The Finish: Pretty long, ashy with more sugared oak and saltiness.
Thoughts: Wow, this was perhaps the most interesting whisky of the Signatory tasting here in SF. This was at times reminiscent of a Cambletown or lightly peated Islay in its deep coastal funk, but tempered with enough highland fruit and floral-ness. This whisky is all over the place, there’s a lot going on but in a good way, the impressive, wild complexity is held together by its age. If this were 5 – 7 years younger it’d probably be a mess, but at 17 years, the oak is very understated yet does a fantastic job reining in all the rich, different flavors rolling around.
Signatory 1992 Ben Nevis 17 Year Old, Highland (West Highland)