14 Year Old

Oban Little Bay

Reviewed by: The Cynical Scot

Oban Little Bay WW

When you only have a little to say about a little dram, make sure the little says a lot. Oban Little Bay is a recent outpouring from a little town on the west coast of Scotland.

Oban claims its little spirit lives within the copper stills, where it rests between batches to help develop the experience. Little oak casks are the next little touch to smooth the draw and build the richness.

On the nose it spins and winks and jigs, while the taste is a warm clear heat; a dancing djinn on the warm moor. Though not smoky, it feels like fire.

This emissary from the little people doesn’t decide whether the spirit is of earth or fire or water, but being from Oban it dances between them all and lives in none. A real genie in a bottle.

★★★

How it compares:

The Little Bay has a youthful, flickery, salty warmth, whereas the 14yo is a sweeter, more complex and refined drop. Even though we would go for the 14yo, the Little Bay has its own magic touch.

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Oban 14 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Oban 14

Rather like the wild haggis (Haggis scotticus), Oban distillery is a curious wee beastie. Located on the craggy west coast of Scotland in the town of the same name, Oban is one of the oldest distilleries in the country, founded in 1794 on the site of an old brewery by brothers John and Hugh Stevenson. Interestingly however, despite its lengthy existence it has remained one of the smallest distilleries around, with only two pot stills in residence to make the good stuff.

Understandably, the limited production capacity has focused the Oban distillers, choosing to craft a few expressions rather than the seemingly endless releases pedalled by larger producers. Luckily this means that the Obanites have had plenty of time to refine and tinker with their creations.

Oban’s flagship dram is one that should pique the curiosity of any whisky fiend looking for something a little different. Eschewing usual ageing lengths, the Oban 14yo, part of Diageo’s “Classic Malts Selection”, exploits an interesting niche between youth and maturity, and it must be noted, at a price on par (at least in Australia) with many 12yo whiskies.

The character of the 14yo walks a fine line, balanced as it is between the highlands to the east and the islands to the west. A careful nosing reveals a light, sweet, dusty spirit with suggestions of damsons and green apples, giving it a sense of kinship with other highland drops such as Dalwhinnie.

The taste on the other hand speaks of its seaside home, beginning with a bright, slightly salty burst on the front of the palate, lifted by the 43% strength, followed by a hint of seaweed and coastal air. The mid palate smooths out and becomes much more rounded, with dried fruits, zest, spices and perhaps just the lightest hint of smoke. The finish is clean and doesn’t linger for too long.

Once you’ve knocked back a few sips of the 14yo it’s worth holding the glass up to the light and contemplating the colour, which should be a dark amber. The reason I make mention of this is that the 14yo is not aged in the sherry casks that the colour suggests, but rather ex-bourbon hogsheads.

The answer to this conundrum will cause some to shrug their shoulders unconcernedly and others to foam at the mouth in righteous indignation: caramel e150a. Why Oban chooses to use artificial colouring, while other premium distilleries go to great pains to point out that they keep their own products au naturale, is a secret known only to the Obanites. Whether or not it’s presence affects the flavour of the 14yo I will leave up to your own distinguished palates, fellow wafflers.

The small size of Oban definitely works in its favour, allowing it time to lovingly craft a quirky and interesting product that does not hurt the wallet too much. The 14yo is certainly a delightful and evocative drop; and unlike the pesky wild haggis, is relatively easy to track down for those curious to discover the ‘west highland’ flavour.

★★★

William Grant & Sons come to Burnie

Posted by: Nick

William Grant & Sons logoI could be forgiven for thinking I’d come along to the ‘Burnie’s Best Beards’ convention, as upon arrival I was met with some of the most impressive facial hair this side of Ulverstone. This could only be a whisky tasting!

But it was no ordinary tasting. We were sampling drams created by the third largest producer of whisky in the world: William Grant & Sons; guided through the evening by Rich Blanchard whose job title literally was ‘Whisky Specialist’. Unfortunately this qualification does not teach him which way round the 1 and the 2 go on the tasting notes, and we discovered that we would be beginning with a 12 year old whisky, not a 21 year old!

Grants in Burnie editied whisky waffle

Rich: “And then you pour it down your throat. I told you this tasting business was easy!”

The tasting consisted of many drops I had sampled before, although never in quite so meticulous an order. Being a Grant’s night we began with the self-proclaimed saviour of single malts: the Glenfiddich. We tasted a range of ages: the famous 12 Year Old (where the pear cliché was immediately rolled out), the 14 Year Old Rich Oak (which, true to its name was distinctly oaky: akin to tasting old furniture), the 15 Year Old Solera Vat (still a favourite) and the 18 Year Old (undoubtedly the smoothest).

We then paused to refill our glasses, and Rich delivered his two minute spiel about how whisky is made – in five minutes. He also told us a little of the history of William Grant, detailing his purchase of stills from Cardhu for his own distillery, which was family built – literally. School holiday projects for the Grant family were a little more serious than building a cubby-house.

Rich then mentioned the mastery of recently retired Grant’s head distiller David Stewart, highly regarded still-man, double-maturation pioneer and generous whisky pourer. I made a metal note to try and meet this man one day.

This brought us nicely to Grant’s other crown jewel: The Balvenie. Again beginning with the 12 Year Old (not the 21) before moving onto the 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask (with no reveal as to the source of the barrels – though we ruled out Cuba!).

The final two drops were undoubtedly the highlights. The 17 Year Old DoubleWood I regard highly, so much so to award it the prestigious ‘Tartan Slipper’ in the 2014 Waffle Awards. Finally was the 15 Year Old Single Barrel: sherry cask. I’d had the bourbon equivalent of this drop before but it had not prepared me for what I found in this one. Could it be… peat?

Rich revealed that, yes, the Balvenie did peat their barley, albeit slightly. It was an intriguing drop and a perfect way to finish the night.

As I left to commence my walk up the hill (always easier after eight drams) I could not help but feel a little bit pleased. A proper whisky tasting in my little home town! A massive thanks must go out to Steve Kons for organising the night and to the people at William Grant & Sons for making the journey to the North West.

Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old

The Caribbean. What does it make you think of? Beaches? Palm trees? Sunshine? Johnny Depp movies?

The flavour of the Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask certainly shows the power of suggestion because I can’t help but noticing this whisky tastes rather… tropical!

Balvenie are one of the leaders in Scotland for maturing their spirit in multiple barrels, often, as is the case with the Caribbean cask, for only the final few months of the aging process. This imparts another layer of flavour on the whisky without removing characteristics that are already present. Often this ‘finishing’ process is conducted in sherry or even port casks. In the case of this Balvenie however, it spends its final few months of aging in ex-West Indian rum barrels, hence the moniker: Caribbean Cask.

The rum influence certainly adds a new dimension to the whisky. The overriding flavour in the nose is, would you believe it, bananas; and I’m not just saying this because of the Caribbean image in my head. Honestly! There are also the vanilla and honey notes expected of a Speyside whisky, however these couple with fresh floral scents. It’s sweet and light, but pleasingly complex.

On the palate the mouth feel is thick and syrupy with malty, biscuity notes present. However, these rapidly give way to fruits such as pineapple, passionfruit, mango and yet more banana. Tropical fruits! The finish is gentle and sweet, with more traditional honeycomb and toffee.

Whether or not I would have picked out these tasting notes if this whisky had been given a less suggestive name is an interesting point. However, as far as this dram is concerned, the marketing and the flavour go hand in hand. The image that ‘Caribbean Cask’ conjures in my head is now inseparable from the whisky itself and I can only describe it in one way: this is the tropical punch of whisky!

★★★