I began the month and week with a review of a stunt whisky: Ardbeg Grooves, the 2018 edition of Ardbeg’s annual special release. Today I have a review of an altogether more classic malt—one that is always available and has been available for a long time: the Oban 14. It was recently brought to my attention that I have not yet reviewed a single Oban. This is not entirely my fault as there are very few Obans one could review. Until recently, this 14 yo and a sherry-finished Distillers’ Edition were the only Obans that were easily found (no indie releases that I can think of)—there’s a 18 yo as well, but it’s a more limited release (and in a rare twist, I believe it’s a US exclusive). A couple of years ago an inevitable NAS offering, “Little Bay”, joined the regular line-up; but unlike with Talisker, Diageo has not yet made that line-up mushroom further. If you’re in Oban you can go to the distillery and try your luck with the distillery exclusive, but here in the US we only have three or four Obans to choose from. To make up for my neglect of the distillery, I’m going to review most of these in succession. Today, the 14 yo; on Friday, the Distillers’ Edition; and on Monday, “Little Bay”. In one fell swoop I will go from having reviewed no Obans to having reviewed almost all available Obans.
Not only have I not reviewed the Oban 14, I’ve not even had it—that I can remember at any rate—in almost a decade. The fact that I can’t remember it is not down to the usual depredations of the aging process (or a decade of drinking whisky every night). Frankly, the Oban 14 never made much of an impression on me when I was first trying all the official releases I could find (before I even knew much about independent bottlers). And, like the Dalwhinnie 15, this was one I tried a few times but never went back to. As such, I have only some hazy memories of it as a mild, inoffensive malt. Let’s see what I make of it now that I’ve actually purchased a full bottle. I think this is a 2017 release (see the bottle code below).
Oban 14 (43%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Orange peel, leather, salt, burlap. With time there’s some sooty smoke, something nutty, and more orange. A little sweeter with water and more cereally.
Palate: Peppery; smokier than I remember, though not particularly phenolic. All the other stuff from the nose too. The texture is a bit thin. Smokier and sharper and more peppery with water.
Finish: Medium. Nothing new here; gets a bit bitter and then a bit cardboardy as it goes. A bit longer and saltier with water and then bitter again.
Comments: Granted I last had the Oban 14 a decade or so ago but I don’t remember it being so smoky. I’m told it’s always been this way. Maybe I tried it alongside more peaty whisky then? Or is the pepper setting off a smoke receptor in my palate? Anyway, this is nice and very much in a (milder) Talisker’ish vein. The lack of depth (texture and flavour) lets it down and the bitterness at the end makes it hard to forget the artificial tan. Anyway, as drinkable as it is, I don’t think I’ll be replacing this bottle.
Rating: 83 points.
After writing these notes I was curious about the smoke I picked up—especially as I did not remember it as a palpably smoky whisky. Looking around, I saw references to it being barely peated–1-3 ppm, apparently. Others also noted a smoky character, however. I asked about this on the Malt Maniacs & Friends Facebook page and the brand ambassador confirmed the low peat level. He noted, however, that they apparently use a high percentage of rejuvenated American oak casks and that these impart a spicy character that some mark as smoke. That is obviously what happened with me (and has continued to happen as I make my way down this bottle): some peppery note is in fact setting off a peat receptor in my brain.