Oban 14 year old is one of those classic single malts that everyone should try (in my view).
Oban is a Scottish distillery owned by whisky and drinks giant Diageo. It is located in the west coast port and fishing village of Oban. It was established in 1794 – even before the town of the same name, which sprung up later around it. It is an unusually small distillery for Scotland, as it has only only two pot stills – and relatively tiny ones at that.
Oban produces an unusual style of whisky, something of a hybrid between the dry, smokey style of the Scottish islands, and the lighter, sweeter malts of the Highlands. Diageo credits this to the relatively long fermentation process, and slow condensation – which happens in wooden worm tubs outside the distillery rooftops, exposed to the salted sea air.
The 14 year old expression has long been their standard release, along with an annual Distillers Edition and a few limited release longer-age versions. A couple of years ago, they released Oban Little Bay, a no-age-statement (NAS) expression likely intended to take some of the pressure off the age-stated line. But like many enthusiasts, Oban 14 yo was one of the first Scottish single malts that I had tried (after the ubiquitous Glenlivet and Glenfiddich expressions, of course). I tried it a few times again recently in my travels, for the purposes of this review.
Bottled at 43% ABV. Sold at a rather steep $110 CAD at the LCBO (but I’ve seen it for less in my travels).
Here is how it compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.64 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Glenkinchie 12yo: 8.24 ± 0.23 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.10 ± 0.22 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.30 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.27 ± 0.45 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Kilchoman 100% Islay (all editions): 8.73 ± 0.23 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kilchoman Machir Bay (all vintages): 8.78 ± 0.22 on 22 reviews ($$$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.51 ± 0.39 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Oban 18yo: 8.72 ± 0.19 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Oban 21yo: 9.02 ± 0.24 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Oban Distillers Edition (all vintages): 8.71 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Oban Little Bay: 8.40 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Old Pulteney 12yo: 8.44 ± 0.25 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Old Pulteney Navigator: 8.35 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.70 ± 0.24 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank CV: 8.27 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Talisker 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.23 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker Skye: 8.43 ± 0.28 on 12 reviews ($$)
And now what I find in the glass:
Nose: Very honeyed, with some salted caramel notes. Apple, pear, green grapes and a few light berries. Touch of grapefruit. It is also unmistakably peated, with a fairly sweet peat aroma. Fresh smoke and a faint smell of old sweatsock (which is oddly pleasant). Freshly cut hay and field flowers. A bit more wood influence than Dalwhinnie 15yo, which is similarly honeyed and light (but less smokey). No real off notes, and even the ethanol seems subdued here. Very fresh and clean is how it comes across, almost delicate.
Palate: Honey remains the dominant note. Vanilla and that salted caramel again. Similar citrus note as the nose. Cereal and malt, with a baked goods character. Some wood spice, in the form of nutmeg and light cinnamon. No real smoke here, but it is slightly funky on the swallow (which is common enough on lightly peated malts). Mouthfeel is decent, with a slightly oily character. Easy drinking, though not as sweet as Dalwhinnie.
Finish: Fairly light and short. Light caramel and a bit of apple juice persist, along with a touch of that smokey funk. Really not much going on here, it’s a pretty gentle lead out. Perhaps a few of the oak spices persist, if you search for them.
For me, the nose is the best part of this whisky, as it brings together all the Highland and coastal elements quite nicely. It is fine in the mouth, with decent character and moderate complexity – but perhaps still a bit on the simple side. The finish is disappointingly short and relatively plain.
An excellent introduction to single malts for newcomers to whisky. I would personally rate this whisky a little higher than the Meta-Critic average (and comparable to the Dalwhinnie 15yo at ~8.65).
Among reviewers, Nathan the Scotch Noob, Michael of Diving for Peals and Margarett of Whiskey Wash all give this expression top scores. It also does well with Ruben of Whisky Notes, Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun. But it also garners a number of relatively low scores, including of Dave of Whisky Advocate, Jason of In Search of Elegance, Ralfy and Thomas of Whisky Saga. The lowest score I’ve seen comes from Jim Murray.
Worth seeking out if you haven’t tried it – or are a fan of more delicate single malts generally.