Class: Coastal West Highland Single Malt Scotch
Reviewer: Andrew Owen
Oban Distillery, founded in the late 18th century, is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. Situated right in the middle of the small coastal town of Oban, the distillery is also one of the few urban distilleries in Scotland. Due to its unique location, Oban has had very little space to expand over the years, which makes it relatively small, utilizing just one wash still, one spirit still, and one onsite dunnage warehouse.
Despite its relative size and limited production capacity, Oban is featured in Diageo's "Classic Malts" range, representing the West Highlands. Oban sits right on the coast of the mainland, with the Isle of Mull just a short distance away. Although Diageo sources the malted barley used by the distillery, the local water source (Loch Glenn a'Bhearraidh) and onsite aging add hints of coastal flair to Oban's single malts. Update 3/7/18: A trusted source informed me that Oban no longer utilizes its onsite warehouse. Rather, all casks are shipped from the distillery to a Diageo-owned factory warehouse in the lowlands near Glasgow.
Given its small production capacity, nearly all of the whisky Oban produces is utilized in its official single malt bottlings. Rarely will you find an independent bottling of Oban or a blended whisky that contains any Oban malt. The 14 year old is the distillery's flagship whisky, and is the youngest age stated offering in a range that also includes an 18 year, "Distiller's Edition", and non-age stated bottle titled "Little Bay". The price of the 14 year can vary quite a bit in the U.S. and ranges anywhere from $55 to $80.
- In typical Diageo fashion, there is no transparency on the bottle's label or tube regarding chill filtering or added coloring. Safe to assume that this whisky is chill filtered and has had a bit of color added to it.
- Aged in ex-bourbon casks
- Bottled at 43% ABV.
Nose: Clover honey. Heather blossoms. Lilac. Vanilla. No ethanol tickle whatsoever. The honey is pronounced, but the nose as a whole is nuanced, gentle, and inviting.
Palate: More soft and concentrated honey from the nose. Soft, subtle floral notes. A hint of citrus. A nice undercurrent of vanilla. Just a touch of mineral peat (not smoke). The mouthfeel is medium bodied and somwhat oily.
Finish: Honey/vanilla reprise. More mineral notes. The florals are brighter on the finish, more vibrant and slightly more citrusy. The finish is long.
Buying Recommendation: Must Try! After reviewing this whisky, I looked back over my notes and realized that the nose, palate, and finish descriptors were almost identical This whisky has tremendous consistency from the nose through to the finish. There are no surprises or curve balls in this dram; rather, it offers a polished and relatively straight forward drinking experience. For the whisky drinker looking for big, bold, and in-your-face, this whisky will come across as boring. To the whisky drinker who does not place expectations on this whisky beforehand, but accepts it for what it is, this is an extremely pleasant sipper with finely tuned nuance and cohesiveness. When I can find it under $65, this whisky admirably fills the "ex-bourbon highland" spot in my whisky cabinet.
The Rating Scale
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: truly exceptional
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