Archives is a label exclusive to the WhiskyBase Shop, a retailer in the Netherlands. They usually manage to be priced as values, which is a nice change of pace from many other contemporary bottlers. Additionally they offer many of the malts in their shop as small 20 mL samples so customers can try before they splurge on full bottles. I grabbed two for this one to make sure I could get a fuller experience. I had very different experiences with each sample, so I'll present both sets of tasting notes.
This whisky was distilled on May 13th 1999, filled into a hogshead, then bottled on September 21st 2015 at 55.4% without coloring or chill filtration.
Archives Ben Nevis 16 Year 1999/2015 Cask #166
Nose: rather feint-y, plastic/solvent, new make/grassy, unripe apples/pears, berry jam, light wood spices, slightly coastal, roasted peanuts. After adding a few drops of water the off notes largely disappear, with the peanuts leaping to the fore and are joined by walnuts, the berry notes expand significantly and take on a floral edge, while the wood becomes softer and integrates into the malt.
Taste: alcoholic sweetness with an undercurrent of oak up front with fudgy herbal overtones, quickly fades through berry esters into malty notes of fresh dough and classic Ben Nevis savoriness at the back. After dilution the initial sweetness, oak, and berry notes largely integrate up front, with the berries hanging on all the way to the back where they are joined by floral notes and some muskier fruit, overlaying a more muted and muddled savory note going into the finish
Finish: alcohol, grassy, malt
Nose: Demerara rum with a slight sour wine edge, oily, musky overripe fruit, roast squash, malt, raisins, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes more vinous, the savory notes become sweeter, chocolate graham crackers, roses, and burnt orange peel all come out.
Taste: sweet malt with polished oak in the background up front, vinous/sherry in the middle, fading through greener/grassy notes to a malty classic Ben Nevis finish. After dilution the sweet oak spreads across the palate and the green/vegetal overtones move into the middle.
Finish: oak, savory, malt
It's hard for me to get my head around this malt. The first tasting seemed excessively youthful for its 16 years in the cask. That should have been more than enough to outgas the solvent notes often found in new make whisky, but this one seemed to have held onto them with a tight fist. While it had many of the elements I look for from Ben Nevis, the youthfulness seemed to throw everything else out of whack, preventing it from coming together into a coherent whole.
The second tasting was far more in line with what I was looking for from this whisky. The youthfulness had almost completely disappeared and left a very tasty bourbon cask malt. Easily something that I would have been willing to purchase. Unfortunately it's all gone, including samples, so we're all out of luck.