Nested in the Western Highlands, is this humble distillery that has its roots planted well before whisky became legalized in Scotland. And with all that history and culture you would imagine it to be very main stream and commercial. But on the contrary, the distillery is quite modest in size, housing some of the smallest copper stills in the industry; operated by not more than seven people – where care is given to process and quality is given paramount (or so they say…).
The Oban 14 is not your average Joe, it commands a customer base that is quite praiseworthy. The distilleries small size may have allowed for shorter stills, but this has enabled better copper to spirit interaction. The contents relayed to the rooftops, are cooled using wormtubs and then matured in ex-bourbon american oak barrels, where they age as they interact with the surroundings and the salty sea breeze – the resulting whisky a rich, complex and flavourful dram.
The bottle though simplistic, is rustic, carrying itself very nicely with minimal variations in color across the bottle – cream except for the black collar around the neck of the bottle. The little bits of history written across the labeling is also welcoming, giving consumers a nice read and adding to the overall branding. Now that being said, don’t be swept away by the lovely deep copper colouring of the contents housed inside. This unfortunately is an outcome of an industry-wide “acceptable” practice – tainting with E150 Caramel colouring. Adding salt to wounds, the distillers also chill filter the whisky prior to having it bottled.
Nose: Caramel and butter biscuits with the mild sweetness of barley and dark chocolate. Peat and oak wood features well on the nose and in the midst you get a sense of citrus zest and a few tropical fruits followed by the damp spice of green pepper.
Taste: Rich caramel, burnt butter and brown sugar along with a few dollops of maple syrup. Quite medicinal in nature with a few grains of salt – woody and peaty with an earthy feel left on the palate, soon to be consumed by a lovely fusion on golden raisins, plums, dried figs, cherries and the spice of ginger shards and pepper corns.
Finish: Medium | Sweet caramel and raisin cake with a mild warmth that loosely tapers.
The Oban has a light to medium body with a very rich, dense and flavoursome profile. There’s butter, caramel and figs with a generous stroke of wood and peat, neither of which is overpowering, capturing the best of both worlds- the sweet, scenty highlands and the medicinal, earthy Islays.
This 14 YO expression is testament that you don’t always need sherry cask maturation to lift or add layers of complexity. And at around $100 AUD, this is certainly a keeper and fits in as a regular or one for those family gatherings.
I am however saddened that with such a quality product, distilleries still bow down to the industries dying need to superficially create a mirage of a consistent and near perfect whisky by artificially colouring and chill filtering the spirit. Modern consumers wouldn’t be bothered with the colour as long as their lips smack at the end of very gulp and their tongue goes lapping up any residue hanging from their moustache.
Preference : Neat!