I’ve always been a big fan of Oban. It’s one of the few distilleries that come to mind when I want something essentially “Highland” and with such a consistent house character that you know every bottle is going to contain that same predominant biscuity honey quality. Prices have crept up over the years, as they have with everything with the word “whisky” on the label, but I still think of Oban 14 as my go-to Highland malt.
You may have read my review of the Game of Thrones edition of Mortlach, which is worth revisiting if you’re currently asking yourself what this bottle has to do with “Game of Thrones”. As of this writing, there are still bottles of Oban “Night’s Watch” as well as some of the other Game of Thrones bottles in circulation. I suggest waiting until they go on another wave of closeouts, since Diageo still wants to see these bottles off their books. I wouldn’t pay the listed $60 to $70 for this bottle, but I sure as Hell would (and did) pay $25. At that price, I wish I’d bought three.
As usual with Diageo, there’s not much reliable information about what’s actually in the bottle. Oban uses lightly peated malt, which always surprises me because I rarely detect smoke in the glass. Oban Bay Reserve is a NAS (no age statement) whisky, so we know it’s at least 3 years old but more likely – and this is a total guess – between 9 and 12. It’s bottled at 43% ABV. Chill filtered and color-adjusted? Probably. Who knows.
Nose: Gentle fruit, with clear notes of plum, apricot, kiwi, and bubble gum. Aromatic, with nondescript floral notes and just enough tartness to be bright and inviting. Beneath that, clean honey and crisp sweet barley grains. Simple, but perfect in execution.
Palate: Moderate body. Intensely honeyed, with a short tongue burn. The honey is complete with beeswax (reminds me of Clynelish). Some of the fruits from the aroma are present, along with a layer of very slightly bitter charcoal, a mild vanilla oakiness, and a floor of standard malty cereal.
Finish: Medium-short. Turns nutty quickly, with blanched almonds and toasted walnuts. The fruit runs out right away, and it ends dry but without much bitterness.
With Water: A few drops of water seem to wash away the aromatic high notes, including the best fruit. The palate seems thinner. Skip the water here.
Overall: A very straightforward, tasty dram that is exactly what you expect from a not-quite-fully-mature Oban. The finish is on the short side and feels incomplete, but the aroma is fantastic and the palate keeps up. I would happily buy more of this at the current bargain basement price of $25, and would even be satisfied to have paid $40. Pity I didn’t get more when it was on sale.