Oban 14 year old was my favorite single malt back in the days when I owned only two or three whiskies at once. It was more angular than Glens Fiddich, Livet, and Morangie and delivered what I considered at the time a fuller drinking experience. Years later, when this blog was a toddler, I tried Oban 18 year old and found it to be good but lighter and shier than the 14. Still, I probably should have bitten back when K&L had it on sale for $79.99 now that the average US price for it is $140.
When Diageo announced their 2013 Special Release lineup, I was very excited to see Oban amongst Port Ellen and Brora and other sexier names, and was even willing to push my bottle price ceiling to get this once-a-decade bottle. But then I saw the price, more than twice my ceiling. That was right about the time the rest of the Special Releases were nearly doubling in price from the year before. That marked the moment the Special Releases no longer had anything to do with whisky. They became ultra luxury products. And over the past three years, whisky geek outrage about these prices has turned into bored dismissal as we've recognized the Special Releases are irrelevant to 99.99% of whisky drinkers. In some marketing circles outrage equals publicity, and silence equals death. So good luck with that, Dr. Nick.
Three years and three Special Release rounds later, Oban 21 can still be found for its original price on a number of store shelves in the US. The good news (for me) is that I was very lucky to receive a sample bottle of this product from St. Brett of Riverside (a man who elected to purchase this luxury bottle) this year. And to be honest, I was more interested in the Oban than much more expensive bottles that were offered. So I drink this as toast to St. Brett and to my fellow former Oban fans.
Range: Special Releases
Region: Western Highlands
Age: at least 21 years
Maturation: rejuvenated American Oak and second fill ex-Bodega Casks
Alcohol by Volume: 58.5%
Limited Bottling: 2860
Bottling year: 2013
Caramel Colorant? Maybe
The color is orange gold. Umm, I'm just going to hope that's not DiageoGold™ or else this isn't a very special release from you putzim. The nose starts out with a gorgeous combination of toffee, milk chocolate, canned peaches, and burning leaves. Yeah, there is a solvent hint occasionally and two pencil shavings, but there are also rich notes of orange oil and dates. The insanely rich palate is loaded with yellow peaches, yellow plums, vanilla pudding, malt, bitter dark chocolate, toffee, and earth. The little bit of heat works like a spice behind the main ingredients. There's a massive citrus note in the finish: limes, oranges, and sweet lemons. Vanilla bean and a brisk bitter buzz. Great length.
WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Just a touch of caramel sauce in the nose. Oranges, yellow plums, and jasmine along with an aromatic old musty scotch note. The palate gets a little sweeter, tangier. Limes and chocolate ice cream. The finish now has a combo of metal, tangy citrus, and herbal bitterness that actually works. Also milk chocolate.
Yeah, there's some "rejuvenated" oak in the mix here, but the fruit and the earth lift it up meeting the new stuff head on, resulting in deliciousness. When neat, the palate is a true highlight, but the nose rules once water is added. It's much better than the 18yo and I'm thankful to have tried Oban at full power. Had I spent $200 on this, I would have been happy with the quality of the product. But $450? Heehee. Ugh. Next.
Availability - A dozen or more stores in the US
Pricing - $400-$500
Rating - 89