A Musty Malt, Shrouded in Mystery: Oban 14

Oban 14 is a top-shelf standard at any run-of-the mill pub. It shares the stage with Lagavulin 16, often together at the top, often alone. At such establishments, too, it is often $10/oz, a price at which many seem to believe much too high for its quality. To some, it is a delicious classic, to others, it is merely ordinary. My view tends to be somewhere in between.

Nose: Sweet and salty chocolate and vanilla notes, Florida Orange Lifesavers. Toffee, nutmeg and tobacco. Musty and mossy. Black licorice. A very perplexing dram. A Highland, yes, but a dark one. Different from it’s bright West Highland brother (Ben Nevis). A few funky notes on the end, something a tad like sulphur.

Palate: Pleasantly oily. Velvety. Sweet, salty, and very malty. Citrus (orange and lemon). Chocolate and vanilla. Caps off in a big billow of cigar smoke. Not as smooth as it could be, something a little rough at the beginning. It gives the impression of being jagged.

Finish: Long, sweet, nutmeg, a tad musty and earthy. Also, something unique: an oily palate that finishes with almost a jelly-like coating on your tongue—much like melted black jujubes.

Grade: B

Before trying this Oban, my thoughts wrestled with the usual “Here’s another big-name dram with low ABV… It is probably going to disappoint.” Of course, I could probably say that it is disappointing for the price, but abstracting from the price, it goes a bit beyond ordinary. I have heard that Oban 18 is much better, and I can see how a few more years in the barrel could bring the smoothness of maturity, and some additional balance to this dram. As it stands, though, the Oban 14 is good, but underwhelming for the price. That is, a solid B as a raw score that drops further if we consider a price/quality measure.

Note: It is quite a deal at the moment at the LCBO. You can get a small bottle (200mL) for $24. Not only is this a great price to try it at, but it’s actually cheaper to buy 800mL worth of small bottles than to spend $110 on a 750mL regular bottle.

Coming up later in November and in December, we have reviews of Ardmore Traditional Cask and Glenmorangie “Lasanta”. I also hope to review part of Auchentoshan’s Duty free line, ‘Springwood’, ‘Heartwood’ and ‘Cooper’s Reserve’ if the rumour of their arrival to the LCBO turns out to be true.