I was delighted when I was asked to visit the warehouses of Scotlands latest Independent Whisky Bottling company, Ardent Spirits.

When I was dropped off by Toni, the long suffering wife, I was greeted by members of the team at Ardent Spirits, Mike Bain, the company founder, Liam Pennycook, distiller, and Toki Pennycook, Distillery and Warehouse mascot and grand-pup to yours truly. It was as excited a welcome as I have ever received turning up to anything. Waggy tail, toys, kisses and lots of cuddles ensued – and that was just from Mike!

Mike is a well known face in the spirits industry in Aberdeenshire, having been involved in, and started many successful companies such as Dusk Bar, Deeside Brewery, Deeside Distillery, Devil’s Point Rum and now Burn O Bennie Distillery and Ardent Spirits are added to the repertoire.

Both are very different companies, with the Burn O Bennie Distillery focusing on producing a range of craft, small batch spirits and whiskies and Ardent Spirits being Mike’s Independent Whisky business, releasing aged casks that have been sourced from distilleries across Scotland.

Ardent Spirits first came to the fore with the release of Sea Shanty Rum, a charity fundraising spiced rum paying homage to the Shanty songs sung by sailors at work.

German made copper topped stills loom over the distillery

During a quick tour of the on site distillery, Liam guided me through the distillation process which takes place using the best brewing equipment on the market. Designed to create great beer, it seems folly that the mash for great whisky doesn’t happen more often in this way. The mash is used with a healthy 10-12% Chocolate Malt and brewed to a hefty 14% Wash after a 168 hour fermentation. Two German made copper stills distill the spirit, which is then used to fill a huge variety of casks including quarter casks, bourbon barrels, wine casks and sherry casks. It’s exciting times at Burn O’Bennie with some great reviews coming from the young spirit, including none other than Charles MacLean himself. Indeed, Charles admitted one of his biggest mistakes in whisky was thinking that the 2 year old spirit was in 18 years old! In the majority of trial tastings, the 18 month old spirit was favoured against big hitters such as MacAllan 18, Glendronach 18 and Glenfarclas 21 year olds. The problem now is taming the spirit so that it doesn’t lose that majestic flavour. A job Mike and Liam are well aware of, and have plans for.

The main purpose of my visit, however was then put to me – to choose a cask that was to become the inaugural release for Ardent Spirits. What an honour! It was very exciting to see the range of casks in the warehouse and the thought of sampling through them got the tastebuds pulsing.

There was a limit, however. The team had decided that the first release was to be a Ben Nevis – a distillery going through a wave of popularity just now and with good reason. Big, punchy flavours, robust mouthfeel and a funkiness seldom found anywhere else bar Campbeltown.

With four casks to choose from and if memory serves me right there were two 8 year olds, a 9 year old and a 10 year old.

The first cask was excellent, the 10 year old. Full of cask influence, vanilla, creamy mouthfeel, a whack of cereal maltiness and caramel. It was very sweet and delicious, however for me, not what a Ben Nevis fan would be after. The lack of peat and funk was evident and, while very enjoyable, perhaps lacked the complexity that fans of the distillery would be after.

Cask two served this purpose much more satisfaction. Just short of 10 years old there was earthy, salted meat notes, grapefruit dryness and a wonderful salted caramel sweetness. It had the moreish savory note synonymous with Ben Nevis. Punchy, strong and willing to put up a fight.

Cask three was more on the peated side of Nevis. Coastal smokey notes with saline flavours, sweet bonfire embers and toasted marshmallows on the finish. A fine balance perhaps between the previous two casks and certainly in contention for what will be a wonderful bottling.

The fourth cask gave more of the dry, citrus notes of cask two. A drier mouthfeel and finish. The flavour was loaded with burnt sugar, toasted oak and cinnamon. Bonfire embers lingered and a bittersweet earthiness enveloped the whole experience.

We finished the day sampling some wonderful casks, without going into too much detail there are some simply stunning well aged liquids to come from Ardent as well as some fantastic young whiskies, finished in Oloroso casks, Rum casks and Wine casks.

So which cask did I choose? Why not buy a bottle and compare your own notes to the ones above to see if you can guess. Perhaps I’ll tell you if your right, but ask me after tasting it!

Ardent Spirits first release of Ben Nevis 10 year old Single Cask can be purchased here with a release special price of £85.00 from Inverurie Whisky Shop