The signature expression of Oban’s West Highland distillery is a fine sipper for any occasion, from taking the edge off after a rough day to hard-core whisky geekery.
Classification: single malt scotch
Distillery: Oban, West Highland, Scotland
Cask type: ex-bourbon American white oak
Aged: at least 14 years
Awards won: Gold, 2018 Tastings.com International Review of Spirits; Silver, 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition; Finalist (94 points), 2018 Ultimate Spirits Challenge; Gold, 2018 SIP Awards; 14 Year Single Malt of the Year, 2018 New York International Spirits Competition
- With just a light touch of smoke, this is a great “gateway” whisky for anyone interested in exploring smokier, peatier Islay malts.
- A quintessential Highland malt at a comparatively reasonable price, this delivers bang for the buck.
- The use of caramel coloring is unnecessary, and some argue that it affects the flavor.
Color: With a rich amber that belies its relatively young age (for a scotch, that is), it’s said that caramel coloring is used to darken its hue, as is the case with many Diageo-owned whiskies.
Nose: It’s quite floral and malty, with notes of honey and apricot. Let the glass sit for a few minutes, and the honeyed aromas become more pronounced.
Palate: Highland malts are all over the place stylistically, and so is Oban. It kicks off with sweet, luscious notes of apple and honey and a tongue-coating waxiness, which morphs into tart lemon and malt. Hold it on the tongue and saline, wisps of smoke, and a tingling oaky spice come to the fore.
Finish: Long and pleasant, malty with undercurrents of lemon curd
The Oban distillery, in the West Highlands of Scotland, was founded in 1794, even before the town that bears the same name, and it hasn’t moved or expanded since then. A mere seven full-time employees operate the two stills that produce Oban. Given its distillery’s size, however, it’s a remarkably easy whisky to find. Credit for that goes to spirits behemoth Diageo, which acquired the distillery in 1989 and made it part of its Classic Malts collection.
The 14-year-old is the signature Oban expression. Highland malts can encompass a range of different styles, from Speyside sweetness to Islay-type smokiness, and Oban runs the gamut in a single sip, encompassing luscious fruity flavors, salinity and a light smokiness. (Many Highland whiskies are still lightly peated.)
Oban 14-year-old sits in a proverbial sweet spot: complex enough to take seriously but light and easy enough for everyday sipping. As with most single malts, it’s meant for sipping, not mixing, though it makes for a terrific scotch sour if you’re so inclined. It doesn’t quite scale the heights of top-tier Highland malts such as the 18-year-old expressions from Highland Park or GlenDronach, but it’s hard to imagine any whisky lover being disappointed by it.
The Oban distillery was founded before whisky distilling was legalized in Scotland.
The bottom line: It’s not a household name, but you’ll find Oban 14-year-old in the homes of a lot of single malt fans, and no bar with a solid whisky selection would be without it. And with good reason: It straddles the line between accessibility and complexity, giving every single malt fan a reason to enjoy it.