Thursday, November 12, 2009
A tiny town . . .
. . . is Oban where Gaelic is still spoken by some of the residents in the course of their day. The population is a little over eight thousand but swells in the summer to around twenty five thousand, as it is a favorite coastal tourist resort.
Lots goes on in the little town from the soccer games to "shinty," a field hockey sort of a game played with wooden stick and ball. But for us, we are interested in this little Scottish town because of the distillery, founded in 1794, bearing the same name.
The Oban distillery was established by John and Hugh Stephenson. It changed hands many times over the years, built, taken apart, rebuilt, financial troubles, prosperous times, and lots of drama. But, that is not our concern. We care about the magic spirit that is produced by this seaside distillery in a horseshoe bay.
Oban is Expensive
The chief reason for the high price is due to a limited natural water supply that has been negotiated with the local government. The water, of course, imparts the unique flavors of this single malt scotch and gives it dignity.
The most available expression is the 14 year old, but there are three others: Distiller's Edition; 18 year old and a 32 year old. The latter two bottlings are very difficult to obtain. I have not tried the 18 or 32 year old, and so this tasting note is limited to the 14 yr old. And now let's move on to the main event.
Malty, smoke, citrus, and Florida oranges. Very refined.
This is big bodied, very malty, single malt scotch. Upon entry it warms the mouth with lots of cereal and malt flavors. Other flavors slowly emerge a little from the background, but more subtle. Flavors like anise, orange chocolate and lemon zest waltz across the palate in a sensuous and careful fashion.
Swallow this and you will be left with flavors of Grampy's big cigar smoke, more of that malt, glazed brown sugar, chaperoned by soft, slight wafts of peat. The lingering smoke, malt and teensy weensy bit of peat couple to produce a semi-sweet tang offspring. As much as I like the inital and mid-palate flavors, I really look forward to the subdued smokey-malt/peat finish. I also enjoy the lack of over-the-top sherry notes in the flavor presentation. I find lately that too many single malts rely to heavily on sherry casks for aging and the result is an over sherried spirit. Oban is a refreshing departure from the hackneyed practice of overly sherry imbued scotch.
What happens if we add a little water?
Some single malt scotches do not benefit from the addition of water, while others flourish, revealing greater complexity of flavor, and generally sing like a chickadee. Oban is one of the latter such single malts.
To one standard shot, I added half a teaspoon. The water makes the scotch more creamy. The smoke and malt are still there, but now I am picking up milk chocolate shavings, peanut brittle, more pronounced honey and a little heather.
After swallowing, the palate is left with rich cigar smoke, brown sugar and that malty flavor that only a great single malt can deliver. The last impression upon the palate is heavy malt with pepper. More peppery finish with the addition of water.
I am very fond of this single malt scotch. It is very malty, chased by brown sugar, Cuban cigar smoke and a little, very little peat. If consumed neat, I am surprised by the delicate citrus flavors hidden in the background. Well done! While medium bodied and not overly complex (if drank neat) in terms of how the various flavors are weaved together, this is definitely a repeat purchase. Balanced! I really cannot criticize this single malt.
Sometimes I can get in a little bit of a rut with my scotch choices. Generally, I like big bodied, dark caramel and cinammon toast flavor profiles. Trouble is, they can get boring. Oban 14 falls within that category, but is not boring. It has a heavy malt taste with smoke and orange rind that is simply great. It is a superb starter whisky for the single malt newbie, yet very pleasing to the veteran like me who seeks variety on a classic flavor profile.
There are only two possible criticisms of this single malt. First, consumed neat, the flavor profile is not what one would consider "complex." There may be the odd connoiseur who demands greater complexity for the price point charged. I do not regard the lack of high level complexity as a flaw. The flavors are held in such a balanced fashion that it is very enjoyable and pleasing. Besides, if you want more complexity, just add a little water.
The second criticism that could be leveled relates to the price charged. Sometimes deals can be had for this single malt, but they are far and few between. If you see it in the $40's buy as much as you can. Unfortunately, much of it is sold at $60 and above in the United States. In Canada, its close to $90. I will admit the price is heavy and if "value for money" is an important consideration when buying scotch, this may be a reason not to by Oban 14 years.
In any case, I like this and will certainly buy it again! I am still thinking about that initial malty flavor that transitions to orange chocolate and from there becomes smokey and ends with that sweet tang finish! Damn! This is good!
© Jason Debly, 2009-2012 All rights reserved.