The Oban Bay Reserve is one of ‘chase’ bottle of the series of Game of Thrones whisky tie-ins. It sold out in a flash at the big retailers. Though like the entire series, hold onto your horses - winter will be coming once again - thousands upon thousands of new bottlings are on the horizon. Releases are few and far between from the West Coast based distillery, and it’s popularity, particularly in the US is high. The bottling looks rather stark (pun intended) compared to the other seven releases – black smoked glass, certainly fitting for the Night’s Watch - though presented with a rather tacky plastic label.
Bay Reserve is a newly formed expression rather than a rebottling of an existing one ala Cardhu Gold Reserve and Royal Lochnagar 12 year old. Bottled at 43% ABV, there’s a wealth of Night’s Watch related ‘stuff’ over the label, but little to nothing about the makeup of the whisky itself.
Nose: Pleasantly fruit-forward with orange peels, raspberries, macerated cherries and strawberry yoghurt (of the ‘strawberry aldehyde’ artificially flavoured variety). Running throughout is a vein of grassiness, dried, demi-sweet, slightly mossy and with some herbal mustiness. Not quite barnyard, but heading in that direction. Chalkiness sits in the background alongside machine oils and liquid paraffin. A slight reduction opens up the farmyard side fully with haylofts and a lactic edge of fried egg whites. There’s also some sweet pastries – breakfast waffles with honey drizzle.
Taste: The arrival feels slightly thin, but at the same time it has a waxen quality to it which coats the mouth nicely. Malts are up first – golden and gentle toasted. Then, a more darker fruit complement – blackberries and blackcurrants with cocoa powder and peppy spicing – cloves and cinnamon. There’s not much development here, but what there is seems spice focussed with increased clove and cinnamon intensity and pepper starting to creep in alongside a fair amount of dryness. I strangely preferred this with a few drops of water – whilst the arrival was inarguably thin at that point, the balance seemed much improved with tart oranges peels and lemon balm sitting nicely with the dark reduced berry flavours.
Finish: Medium in length – cloves, cinnamon, pepper and drying oak.
Oban Bay Reserve possesses a genuinely interesting nose, but the palate fails to live up to these initial expectations offering little complexity or development. It’s all completely fine, but to my mind doesn’t offer anything radically different to the cheaper travel retail Little Bay, nor achieve the general level of balanced quality offered by the standard 14 year old. In whisky terms, I rather feel there’s a trick missed here – a small parcel of ex-sherry casks adds some fruitiness, but I’d have been much more interested in an expression which upped the smoke levels of the standard Oban profile – here they’re all but unperceivable. But, what do I know – this will surely continue to sell like one of Hot Pie’s hot pies.