Oban was constructed in 1794 by brothers John and Hugh Stevenson and is located in the Western Highlands. The distillery is one of Scotland's smallest with just two, small, onion-shaped still and a pair of worm tubs (which are run hot to increase the amount of copper contact and preserve the distilleries light, fruity new make style). Oban was one of the very first entries into the single malt category when in 1979 they launched a 12 year old expression. Ten years later, owners Diego launched their 'Classic Malts' line-up, and a relaunched 14 year old Oban was added to the range.
The current Oban core range currently consists of: NAS bottling 'Little Bay', a 14 year old and a Distiller's Edition (finished in Montilla Fino sherry). Over the years, Diego have issued a number of limited and/or special editions, including an 18 year old bottled for the US market and a fairly legendary 32 year old which was distilled back in 1969. Independent bottlings of Oban are very rare indeed and few have been seen in recent years.
For today's tasting we're going to take a look at the 14 year old - the Western Highland entry in the Classic Malt series.
Nose: The aromas of both lemons and oranges form a lively St Clements style backdrop for some malty and maritime characteristics. Rich and pronounced malts bring along a hint of both furniture polish as well as light hay and pencil shavings. The maritime comes courtesy of both a mild salinity and a gentle, but medicinal light smoke.
Taste: Silky rich mouthfeel with a fair kick of oak woodiness in the back palate. The Initial taste is very akin to an apple turnover - stewed fresh fruits with sugary rich baking notes. A generous pinch of pepper, a dash of salt and a hint of cloves are provided by some well-judged oak spicing. Malty again with notes of damp soil and extremely faint wafts of peat smoke. Only the 43% ABV holds this back from achieving something greater, as the rich mouthfeel quickly fades and becomes a touch thin.
Finish: Short to medium length with a lovely level astringency. A sprinkle of pepper, a touch of cigar tobacco and still that pervasive deep malt. The finish does benefit from some time spent resting in the glass – straight out of the bottle it can seem very short indeed, but it does lengthen, and indeed deepens once it has had a bit of 02.
Oban 14 year old can often be found sitting on many the pub/bar whisky shelf – it is overlooked far more often than it should be. Whilst I’d probably appreciate an extra 3% of ABV punch to help deliver the flavours, this is still a well-balanced and highly drinkable whisky. The combination of sweetness from the fruits and bitterness from the wood is well judged and never becomes too much of one or the other.