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Of all whisky regions, the Highlands is perhaps the hardest to pin down to any one style, though this is hardly surprising given the area takes in everything from Loch Lomond in Alexandria to Ben Nevis in Fort William, Tomatin in Inverness and Old Pulteney in Wick. Looking for regional similarities in profile over such a geographically large area is preposterous. Indeed, one could make an argument for subdividing the region into smaller more meaningful sections. Perthshire for example is home to a number of distilleries that share some common characteristics. Today however I am focusing on the western highlands and in particular, the charming coastal town of Oban.
The Oban Brewery was founded in 1793 but within a year of production, it had been converted to a distillery, making it one of the oldest in Scotland. Over the course of its long history, the distillery has seen multiple changes in ownership and encountered more than its fair share of mothballs. The site itself was relatively small and the town rather grew around it, severely limiting any potential for growth. This meant the distillery was often unable to keep up with demand, frequently overlooked for other mass-producing plants. Today, however, the distillery has a home at Diageo and has rather found its place in the world thanks to the inclusion of a 14-year-old version in the parent company’s ‘Classic Malts’ range.
Other than this 14-year-old expression, the Oban malt is limited to only two other releases – the no-age-statement (NAS) ‘Little Bay’ and the ‘Distillers Edition’. While it would be nice to sample a more extensive range of the Oban spirit, this limited supply is understandable. None of the spirit produced here goes to blends, the distillery is running at full pelt just to produce this small output of bottlings.
Never one to judge a book by its cover, I rarely discuss a bottles labelling but in this case I shall make an exception. Lengthy prose refers to the Vikings, the Stone of Destiny and Clan MacDougall, though what any of this has to do with the whisky is something of a mystery. I enjoy a small helping of mythology with my dram, but some practical information would be nice too, and there’s very little on offer here.
Smell: Honey, Malt, Orange, Marzipan and a tough of Sea Salt.
Taste: Good weight for its 43% strength, I suspect chill filtration will have been carried out, it appears to have been done with some sensitivity. Salty again, Honey, Dark Chocolate and Orange.
Thoughts: Oban’s 14-year-old seems to have climbed in price of late. I’ve seen it priced around the £50 mark in a few places. It’s a good malt with lots of character but I’d say that’s starting to push credibility a little. Then again, with the influx of expensive no-age-statement drams perhaps we should treasure a 14-year-old malt? Only the individual can decide if they want to pay the money but at least with Diageo, you know you can expect quality.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.