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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Single Malt Report: Oban 18 year old (2008 release)

Ownership: Diageo
Age: minimum 18 years
Maturation: refill American Oak ex-bourbon hogsheads
Region: Western Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Limited Bottling: 1315 out of 8778

Ah yes, Oban, the odd little gem sitting at the southwest tip of the Highlands, overlooking the lochs near the isles of Mull and Jura.  It's Diageo's second smallest distillery (capacity 670,000 liters).  And despite Diageo's claims that their company is not in the business of making single malts, all of Oban's malt whisky goes into......single malts.  And it's a good thing too.  Of all Diageo's single malts, Oban is their best seller in the United States.

But enough about the Imperial Empire, let's talk about this rebel.


In a small town bearing the same name, the Oban distillery faces the loch inlets from the ocean.  Some believe that's where its malts' oft salty character comes from.  Its water sources run through mossy hills which may provide the faint peaty note that some folks pick up in the whisky.  Oban matures its spirit in refill American hogsheads, which are more than 50% larger than regular bourbon barrels, but half the size of sherry butts.

The distillery was founded in 1794 by John and Hugh Stevenson. It was originally established to be a brewery the year before, but quickly switched to whiskymaking. The town of Oban, built up around the distillery, stayed tiny until it grew into a major port and railroad center in the late 1800s.

Oban distillery stayed in the Stevenson family until 1866, when it was purchased by Peter Cumstie.  Then after buying Oban in 1883, James Walter Higgins gradually dismantled and reconstructed the distillery without much of a pause in production.  In 1898 a consortium, which included future jailbirds The Brothers Pattison, took over.  After the consortium went under, Buchanan-Dewar bought what remained (including Oban) in 1923.  Buchanan-Dewar later became part of Distillers Company Limited, which in turn became part of Diageo several decades later.

In 1979, Oban released a 12 year old single malt.  In 1988, their main malt became the 14-year.  A limited cask strength 32-year was released in 2002, then a very limited cask-strength 20-year followed in 2004.  A fino sherry-finished distiller's edition (reviewed briefly here) comes out semi-annually.


In 2008, Oban released this 18 year old exclusively within the US market.  There were 8,778 bottles in the batch and (a bit curiously) it's still relatively easy to find in the LA liquor specialist shops.

From the moment I'd heard of it, I was pretty excited to try this one.  I was even considering saving my pennies to buy a bottle outright...

But on Robert Burns Day (January 25th) this year, I found myself at The Daily Pint.  And at The Daily Pint, I found a bottle of Oban 18 year.  A full, unopened bottle.  I paid a bit of a premium for the pour, but it was the freshest drop in the bottle (and it could save me $$$ in the long run).

Since I'm VERY familiar with its younger brother, I found myself making mental comparisons between the two quite a bit.

Color-wise, it's where light copper meets apple juice.  A little caramel e150, perhaps?  The nose is dusty, musty, musky, with bourbon / oak sweetness.  There's some citrus (more grapefruit than orange) throughout, with a maple syrup note after a long wait.  The palate is very mild and smooth -- apple juicey, malty, with vanilla and hay.  Its finish changes character into cream and coconut milk with vanilla custard.

The nose sheds most of its characteristics retaining bourbon oak and malty notes.  The vanilla pudding note enters the palate along with some molasses amongst the creamy texture.  The finish remains the same.

It's quite the polite teenager.  Very mellow.  Aficionados may even consider it an aperitif.  It's an easier malt than the 14-year, with the younger sibling's saltier edges mellowed by four more years in wood.

If you like Oban 14, then you'll probably like this.  If you like challenging or intense whiskies, then this might seem too quiet and (almost!) Lowland-like.  As far as my tastes go, I have similar feelings towards this whisky as I had to the Laphroaig 18yr versus its younger brethren.  The 18-years both have a genial grace, but I prefer the strong character of the younger malts.

That does not make this a lesser malt.  In fact, it's damned delicious and can be found at a reasonable price.  It all depends on palate preference.

Availability - Some liquor specialists (US only)
Pricing - Excellent! at $80, still pretty decent at $100
Rating - 86

This THURSDAY, I'll be posting about a single malt that has garnered four separate report requests.  I'll leave it a mystery for now, but there were plenty of hints in today's post...