Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review: Oban 14 year Old - Single Malt Scotch Review

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.

Oban Distillery
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.

Multiple Expressions
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.

Nose (undiluted)
Malty, smoke, citrus, and Florida oranges. Very refined.

Palate (undiluted)
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.

Finish (undiluted)
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.

Palate (diluted)
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.

Finish (diluted)
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.

General Impressions
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.


  1. I loved the Highland Park 12 you recommended. I can get the Oban 14 for about $56 here in Kentucky. Is it worth the price?

    1. I picked it up for $100 in New Zealand... and that was half price. I thoroughly enjoyed the Highland park 12, and highly recommend this single malt. one of the best I have tried.

    2. What I really like about the distillery that produces Oban is that there is a limited supply. This is due to the fact that their water supply is an allotment from the town. So each year, there is a limited production. I think this makes for a great whisky rather than sourcing water elsewhere to up production.

    3. I read that the limited supply is due to the town of Oban, which grew up around the distillery. They literally cannot expand due to the presence of other buildings in the immediate vicinity.

  2. $56 U.S. is very reasonable for Oban 14yr.

    The problem with this distillery is that the production each year is not very great. So, the price is in part a reflection of scarcity. Unlike other single malts (ie. Glenfiddich 12) whose supply can outstrip demand, Oban nearly always sells out all of its production in a given year.

    If you get it, let me know your impressions.

  3. I'm going to have to buy a bottle of this and sample with water. Previously I'd tried this about a year ago in a bar in San Francisco after a desert. I didn't really remember much about it, though I knew the Irish girlfriend's father really likes it. Last night at her 40th bday at a high end restaraunt I didn't see anything on the desert menu that really drew me for an actual desert, so I looked over their scotches.

    I wasn't feeling adventurous enough to plunk down $$$ for the Lagagulin so I went for a dram of the Oban since I remembered at least liking it before. I definitely liked it last night, and maybe since I wasn't having it on top of something sweet I got a bunch of smokey notes that I didn't remember from the 1st time. I liked it though and I think it's going to help me really learn to appreciate the Islay scotches like that Bowmore I picked up a little while back. I thought about testing the Oban with water but figured I'd hold off and see if you had a review on that first, and of course you do.

  4. i am getting this for $44, is it a good price

  5. $44! A good price? More like a steal! I am faced with now paying $139 which is a price point that takes me out of the market. You're lucky!

  6. Jason,
    I'm in love too! Oban is silky, malty, citrus heaven. I get the slight heather and peat as well. This is a fine whisky indeed! Sometimes the nose reminds me of Cragganmore. For me it's worth $56USD, a nice scotch.

  7. I just tried Oban for the first time the other day at a small gathering at my in-laws'. It was excellent. I can't wait to pick up a bottle for myself!

  8. Mike, glad you liked Oban. Wonderful scotch. Your only challenge is to find it for a reasonable price. Depending on where you live that may be a serious challenge. Where I am, the price has gone through the roof. Nevertheless, the search is worth the reward that awaits!

  9. I am an Islay fan, but the Oban is the first Highland whisky to captivate me.

  10. I have another Highland malt suggestion for you: Clynelish 14 yrs

    Try that and you will become as passionate about Highland malts as you are of Islays.

  11. costco has this whisky for about $56.00

  12. My fiance just tried this because his boss had some, and he loved it, but its way out of our budget, can anyone reccomend a place to get it for less than $50? And that will ship to manitoba canada?

  13. BrandyG I think you are out of luck on this one. It goes for between $45 and $60 in New Hampshire (one of the cheapest places for booze) and that's before shipping.

    As for shipping that could be a problem too. United States Parcel Service do not ship liquids of 750ml. So, in order to get it shipped into Canada, you are going to have to deal with a private courier company like FedEx or UPS, which means big transport and brokerage fees, not to mention duty!

    Try visiting some liquor vendors in Calgary, they may have Oban. I don't believe they can legally ship it out of province though.

  14. Wow, really frustrated with Oban. I find it has a lot of burn, strange flavors that don't seem like scotch, AND, any time I drink it it makes my skin flush, like some kind of allergic reaction. Sheesh, no enjoyment. I thoroughly enjoyed a glass of McCallan 12 I had recently, and even the Ardbeg uigeadail I got for Christmas is tolerable (but I would be happy to sell that and the Oban to anyone interested!).

    1. You may have gotten a flawed bottle. Maybe have a friend who knows Oban try it and if they agree it is flawed, return it to the retailer. They may refund you or exchange for another bottle.

  15. I'd love to get my hands on a bottle of Oban 14 YO but my local retailer is out of it and a bit pricey when in stock. Ardbeg Uigeadail is (imho) an acquired taste -- a taste which I acquired by the time the bottle was empty (sigh). I'm going to Oban in a few months so I hope to try some locally.

    1. When in Oban, drink Oban! Sadly the price won't be very cheap there.

      Hope you like it!

    2. Just bought a bottle at Costco. Just under $52 before tax. Love the salt that lingers during the finish.

    3. Awesome price! Never seen it lower than that.

  16. I recently bought one bottle at a distillery in Scotland. All can say is that this is an amazingly good whisky. It climbed right up to my favourite whisky top 10.

  17. Just paid 47 at Costco... 11 if rebate at register... king guard to my first impressions...

  18. I've loved Oban since I first had it on a trip to Scotland.
    I've always had it straight but will try it with a bit of water next time.
    The price is brutal here in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It goes for $123, which is ridiculous. I can pick it up at Total Wines in Phoenix for $60, or $63 in Calgary, Alberta.
    Why the big price difference is a mystery to me. Government ripoff, I'd say!

    1. I really think the price in Canada is due to various provincial governments marking it up for profit. Excessively marking it up.

      At $60 it is worth every penny!

  19. Got a bottle from Holland, 33 €.....

  20. I live a few miles from Oban and even here we are looking at $70 of your American dollars for a bottle of this. Pretty annoying that it can be shipped across the world and still work out cheaper than locally!

  21. Just picked up a bottle at Costco in Redwood City, Ca for about $49

    1. Wish my local Costco carried Oban (all they have is Glenlivet 12 - ugh).

      Wine searcher . com is a good way to find certain spirits here in the States...Too bad Jason the pricing in Canada isn't as consumer friendly.

      Purchased 2 Oban 14 yr thru Merwins online; after shipping was about $62 per bottle...Not too bad of a price considering how single malt scotch prices have gone up these past few years.

  22. G'day Jas...
    Need some guidance please...
    Last tasting was 'Six Isles' blend. And interesting smokie for the price
    Quite nice for the price down here.
    Next is a non smokie or as close as possible.
    Glenfiddich 15 (Solara) $105
    Oban 14 - $90
    Aberfeldy 12 - $75
    It's down to these as others aren't available.
    Unless you can suggest.....
    Our choices and prices aren't as good as you guys up there... heh heh....
    What do you reckon mate....?
    AL (from OZ)

  23. Well, Oban and Glenfiddich 15 are both excellent drams. The former is more sherried than the latter. If you are in the mood for something very honeyed with complexity try the Glenfiddich 15 Solera, but if you like more red fruits and drying try Oban.

    The prices are terrible where you are. I thought Canada was bad. Ouch!

    Let us know what you choose and how they taste!

  24. Yeah,
    You have to make your choices count.
    Had a Tasmanian last month. Hellyers Road 10yr.
    at 46% very nice... even better with a bit of water. Oak, toffee and dried fruit.
    There are quite a few in Tassie now, but pricing makes them almost unobtainable... Sullivans Cove is a prime example.
    Aah well....

    OO ROO mate.


  25. my mother has won this in a local raffle for 50 pence . hope this doesnt make you whiskey drinkers jealous