Cask & Castle
Oban, the Whisky and the Town
We have mentioned our trip to Scotland in 2016 before, and it remains one of our favorite vacations. Each region we visited offered a distinct experience, and the distillery tours we took reflected this variety. Oban was one of the highlights. A picturesque town situated between hills, the sea, and several small islands, Oban is a key transportation link to the Hebrides islands. The town is quaint and feels like a time capsule, and the sunset over the water looks like oil paintings. Within a few miles of the town are several castles with historical ties to famous clans. In typical Scottish style, one of the locals gave us poetic directions to two “nearby" ruined castles, indicating the further of the two was within a walkable distance. Quite a while, and 4 miles later, after wandering through idyllic hills and the rain swept coastline we arrived at Dunstaffnage Castle. The combination of natural beauty, history, and adventure we experienced has us planning our return trip already.
Oban more notably has a historic distillery which has effectively supported the town’s growth. We took our tour of the Oban distillery and felt it was a striking combination of history and modern professionalism. Established in 1794, Oban is now part of the Classic Malts portfolio owned by Diageo. The distillery had a sense of corporate sheen, with production, marketing, and the visitor experience all having a sense of rehearsed and polished execution. Nevertheless, Oban is quite small, with just two stills, so we never felt like we were touring an industrial factory.
Oban is best known for the company’s flagship 14-year old Highland single malt. The malt is lightly peated, but like many aspects of our tour the full details were a bit vague. The amount of peated malt and specific cask information can be a bit hard to come by. Aside from the flagship 14 year old, Oban has a few more age specific expressions to go along with a couple of limited editions. The Distiller’s Edition takes the 14-year and uses a different cask to finish maturation.
Oban Distiller’s Edition
Several of the distilleries in Diageo’s Classic Malts portfolio of brands have released ‘Distiller’s Editions’ (see our Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition review here). The distinguishing characteristic for all of the Distiller’s Editions expressions is that they are finished in some type of wine cask, usually from a Spanish varietal. In the case of the Oban, this second maturation takes place in Montilla Fino casks. Fino is a very dry, sherry-like wine from Andalusia. We haven’t come across the use of this type of wine cask that often, and so we were excited to see how this finish would evolve the flagship Oban flavor and texture.
On the Eyes: In the bottle the whiskey is a dark mahogany wood color, while in the glass the dram resembles a hearty herbal tea. Given that the finer details of this whisky are vague, it is entirely possible the color was added. Either way, the dram is enticing and leaves faint, but long enduring legs in the glass.
On the Nose: The nose is a fresh fruit explosion, with aromas of fresh red apples, pears and mangoes. There is also a hint of fresh caramel and warm pastry.
To the Taste: The Fino wine makes a strong impression on this whisky. The initial flavors are rich blend of sweet and tart, like a warm peach or apricot cobbler. Further sips evoke more stone fruits, with rich oak undertones. There is also the slightest hint of earthy peat smoke.
And the Finish: The finish plays a few maritime notes, with sea salt and spices mingling in a soft and balanced conclusion.
We’re huge fans of fortified wines, and we’re always looking out for single malts that are aged full time or finished in such wine casks. The Oban Distiller’s is a fantastic example of how much flavor and texture a whisky can absorb from a wine cask in a short time. While standard Oban 14 is balanced, somewhat dry and salty, the Fino cask gives the Distiller’s Edition a bouquet of fruit flavors and a rich sweetness that makes it a very approachable yet complex dram.