It’s a perfect opportunity to go back to something familiar.
Recently, I officially finished another semester of my postgraduate studies. For those unfamiliar with what it’s like, think of it as similar to college but being more specialized. The degree I’m pursuing is of a specific field in the social sciences, so imagine needing to read a hundred pages from journal articles or books every week, learn how to understand and think in the language of that discipline, and write structured and critical academic papers. This should give you a good idea.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s been a great experience so far, and I’ve learned more than I can quantify. But I can’t deny that the workload often becomes overwhelming. The previous semester, in particular, was filled with enough requirements, deadlines, and in-betweens that made it difficult for me to write articles for Malt at the same pace I initially had when I started working as a contributor back in February of this year. It’s been an absolute whirlwind.
Right after I emailed my professor to submit my final paper for the semester, the sense of relief that I felt was indescribable. Finally! Now, I could focus more of my time for rest and indulging in my hobbies. I went to my liquor shelf for a much-needed dram, considered my options, and decided to look for a whisky that wouldn’t need much thinking, one that I can maybe enjoy while reading a book (this time, for leisure), watching a series, or even woolgathering. I figured that I’d save the more complicated drams next time. Yes, the really good ones are not always the best choices!
Eventually, my gaze fell on Oban 14, tucked away in its tube at the end of the shelf. This seemed like a great choice for the kind of whisky I was looking for, I thought. Once I poured in a dram and settled down on my desk, I went to Malt, wondering what others have said about this whisky, and was shocked to learn that there haven’t been any pieces on Oban 14 yet!
You’d think that a site like Malt would have reviews of classics like this, but perhaps happenstance just caused the writers’ attention to shift elsewhere. A review of this single malt is definitely long overdue, and I realized that rectifying this gap in Malt’s archives would be great for the site and its readers while also serving as an excellent way of getting myself back into the rhythms of writing. So, here we are.
Oban is a Western Highland Scotch distillery and brand owned by Diageo. Founded in 1794 at Argyll, the distillery was initially operated as a brewery but began distillation shortly after. Like many of Scotland’s distilleries, ownership changed multiple times, and the distillery was modernized, too. Today, Oban is said to be the second smallest distillery owned by Diageo when it comes to production capacity, at 870,000 liters per year.
When I was new to whisky years ago, I first learned of Oban because its 14-year-old single malt was one of the six Classic Malts of Scotland, a selection created by Diageo in 1988 and afterward mass-produced and distributed among on-sale locations across the United Kingdom. Naturally, I considered it one of the key Scotches that I needed to try in order to learn more about the category. Its standing on sales – being the fifth bestselling single malt in Diageo’s portfolio as of 2021 – certainly indicates the size of its customer base, and of the place it holds as a Scotch staple. Make no mistake, though: it’s status is largely due to Diageo’s marketing.
The Oban 14-year-old is the distillery’s flagship expression. It is distilled from lightly-peated malt, aged in refill ex-Bourbon casks, chill-filtered, and bottled at 43% strength.
Oban 14 Years Old – Review
On the nose: There is an initial puff of wax that fades immediately and turns into caramel sauce and bubble gum. A very brief dash of smoke. Tulip petals, dry oats, paprika, and almost a sense of creaminess. Overall, it’s balanced, doesn’t have much complexity, and consistently comes across as delicate.
In the mouth: A little oilier than the nose would have you expect, it’s sweet and slightly salty. Old Cray-Pas. Chamomile tisane mixed with a teaspoon of milk. A touch of toasted apples accompany a steady layer of ginger and a sprinkling of garlic powder. I get a “dusty” note that I sometimes get from malt-forward whiskies. This “dustiness” manifests in slightly various ways depending on the whisky; when it comes to this one, it leans more toward stale chocolate chip cookies. The tail end of the development is not too flashy, having just bitter oak and faint pear skins. The finish is quick and woody, with a similar aftertastes that you get from having a bowl of skin-on red grapes.
Trying this blind would not lead me to think that this was condensed in worm tubs at all. For me, that production method typically causes whiskies to have this hefty, meaty character. Instead, this Oban 14 is on the softer side, light, and fruit-floral. Multiple sources agree that despite using worm tubs, Oban is able to maintain the lightness of its single malt character by using long fermentation periods, mostly over 100 hours per batch, and by running the worm tubs hot so that the copper surface expands, providing greater copper contact that strips the heavier compounds.
It’s not bad. While it’s easy to enjoy Oban 14 mindlessly and as a “background whisky,” which I normally gravitate toward, I like that it has a little more depth to its character that can be appreciated if given enough attention.
This sells in local stores for as low as $70; at this price, it would be at the limit of my threshold for recommending it to those who are new to whisky, so there will be no modifications in my score. It’s unfortunate that this single malt’s price is projected to go up 92%, but at this point, this shouldn’t be a surprise anymore when it comes to mega-corporations like Diageo. I wonder how those prices would shift the way newcomers to whisky would perceive “classic” malts like Oban, but I guess that’s a conversation for another time.
Oban is a distillery I’ve long moved on from, and when last I tried it from a mixed pack of samples earlier in the year I found it much as you write, a whisky that didn’t need much thinking. At £71 per bottle, however, it’s far too much for too little for me. On the rare occasions I want something to sip, I’ll have a beer. Much lighter on the wallet, and I can buy from local brewers.
I’m quite surprised that Clynelish hasn’t gone the same way, probably my favourite of the Classic Malts… but it’s hard to justify buying a bottle when there’s so much competition in the price bracket. Maybe it’s time for Diageo to rethink the range a bit?
Hi, Chris! Agreed, £71 would be too steep for me, too. I’ve considered beer for those kinds of occasions, too, but it just feels too heavy in the stomach for me, haha!
Right now, it’s reasonable to expect that most, if not all, of Diageo’s releases won’t be justifiable price-wise. They seem far from having enough incentive to heed the complaints of consumers like us.
Companies will keep raising prices as long as people keep buying. Though we shouldn’t exclusively blame companies like Diageo since costs are increasing.
Of course, there will always be a multitude of factors that go into these things. It’s just easier to begin by pointing at Diageo because of their position in relation to Oban and in the industry.
I am a scotch lover. But affordability is also a point. Like macallan 12 or 15 years old, even though tough on price, is one of my favs, when I drink alone or with some one very close. For all other occasions with friends, I love Glenlivet or Glenfiddich which are two lovable single malts and much easy on the wallet too
Gopalkrishnan, what’s one example of a Scotch that you’ve found too pricey to be worth buying, even for enjoying on your own or with someone close?
Thanks for the review! I’m in the same camp as others with the price hike: against competing options, buying a bottle of Oban was hard to justify when it was £35, but now we’re in bad joke territory.
Running the tubs hot wouldn’t have a material impact on the actual surface area of copper. I think it’s more to do with the fact that you’re using a warmer surface to condense the spirit, therefore the rate of condensation is lower – letting the spirit ‘hang out’ with the copper longer.