Nowadays you don’t come across too much Oban whisky apart from the staple 14 year old single malt expression and the odd travel retail inspired no age statement release. Those Diageo blenders prize this small distillery that has been engulfed by the town of Oban since it was established in 1794.
Oban distillery is an oddity in today’s modern age as the site it finds itself resting upon is very restricted with a cliff face behind and the town centre literally on its door step. The distillery is perched beside the Oban harbour and this access would have allowed the straightforward transportation of casks to markets further afield. Oban even today isn’t the most accessible of destinations to reach and when you do arrive it’s hard not to think is this it?
Whisky enthusiasts will know that in the 1980’s several distilleries were closed due to the inaccessible locations and sites not allow room for expansion, modernisation or having some retail value to private land investors. Therefore you’d expect Oban distillery to be a prime candidate for the chop during this period of cutbacks and closures. Apart from its unique characteristics the distillery did have a spell towards the end of the 1960’s and into the 1970’s where it was closed for modernisation. This may have strengthened its case for continuing. Looking back across its history, Oban is clearly a survivor and one prized by whoever owned it at the time. The only other period of inactivity was during the 1930’s during its Scottish Malt Distilleries (SMD) era.
Today Oban distillery does not seek or enjoy a high profile amongst the Diageo stable. The lasting memory of my visit was being offered a whisky along with a piece of ginger. Yes, it did match up very well but why feel the need to do such a thing when the whisky can stand on its own two feet?
Along with distilleries such as Talisker and Glenkinchie you rarely (if at all) see an independent bottling of Oban. Actually thinking about it I don’t think I ever have although Cadenheads might have a cask somewhere hopefully. When Diageo does bottle older special editions of Oban at inflated prices they still sell extremely well. Clearly enthusiasts want to experience more from this distillery. It was with in mind during a recent trip to the superb Dornoch Castle Whisky bar that I noticed this Manager’s Dram; a sample purchase later and here we are.
The Manager’s Dram series was instigated by the SMD and was exactly as you’d expect. Each manager was tasked with selecting a single cask whisky that they thought best highlighted the qualities of their distillery. I’m sure this was quite a competitive task as distillery employees are always extremely proud of their efforts. Once bottled these were only available to SMD employees but nowadays you will find such releases on auction sites as the bottles arrive at market. Perhaps as former employees move on or retire from the trade.
Some managers drams are more sought after than others with the bigger names commanding impressive prices. You can pick up many overlooked distilleries for decent prices if you intend to pursue a collection or expand your knowledge. It’s something I may do as this Oban release is only the second Manager’s Dram I’ve experienced. The initial expression was from Knockando distillery as part of their Manager’s Tour during the Speyside Whisky Festival. I should highlight there are another two 19 year old Oban Manager’s dram bottlings from refill casks; unfortunately I’m unable to do a side-by-side comparison.
The Knockando Manager’s release was one of my favourites from the tasting and we were told about the former manager going through the process of selecting the cask. Involving his most trusted employees in some form of treasure quest to find the most magnificent Knockando cask on site at the time. It must have been hellish tasting the maturing stock before arriving at their decision!
Age: 13 years old
Strength: 62% vol
Selected by the manager: 17th November 1990
Oban the Manager’s Dram – review
Colour: a light maple wood
On the nose: quite punchy and youthful from the wood initially with vanilla, pineapple cubes and short crust pastry. Surprisingly little alcohol fire given then bottling strength. Then you engage with the sherry cask influence which is just below the surface; raisins, dark chocolate, almonds and honey. A hint of smoke underpins it all with vanilla fudge and caramelised apples. With water more lemon and ginger.
In the mouth: a rich body and surprisingly drinkable at cask strength. More of that smoke amidst a dirty vanilla moving into tablet and orange marmalade. Walnuts, cranberries and oat cakes are all in on the act.
A pleasant and rounded whisky, but I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest its legendary like the asking price indicates. The nose itself is a real highlight, which the palate fails to equal, but it still offers a cohesive experience. Delighted to have sampled a whisky that is rarely available to try for just £20 at the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar. It’s a good job I do live a few hours drive away otherwise I’d have to set up a direct debit.