Oban

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure Part Two

Posted by: Nick

In July 2018 I realised the ultimate Waffler’s dream and spent nine days travelling whisky’s motherland. I did not waste a moment.

9 days: 20 distilleries.

Fiddlers WW

PART TWO: Highlands and Islands

Whoever said that Scotland is freezing, windswept and rain-lashed has obviously never been to Speyside in the summertime. I was a little sad to leave what was clearly a sunny paradise and head further north, so decided it was not possible to get too much of a good thing and called into two more distilleries on my way out – and boy, these two could not be more different.

Macallan have recently opened a new visitor centre in the heart of Speyside – and it is an architectural masterpiece. The walls were all glass, revealing vistas of the distillery beyond or encasing infamously rare and valuable bottles. All this was sealed beneath a dramatically curved green roof (although in the height of summer it was more of a… well… brown roof). The whole complex was breathtaking – and yet I didn’t like it. Not one bit. It lacked the soul and warmth I love about Scottish distilleries. It was stunning but cold; glamorous but unwelcoming.

Macallan Wall WW

The complete opposite was the case at my final Speyside stop: Glen Moray. While the buildings themselves were nowhere near as spectacular as what I’d just seen at Macallan, the staff (master-distillers wife Fay, champion drinks pourer Kier, and tour guide extraordinaire Caitlyn) were among the nicest and most welcoming in the whole of Scotland. And the whisky? Wow! If you considered the Glen Moray range to be cheap and cheerful, then a visit to the distillery would reveal a few stunners that have been left a little longer in barrels. A personal favourite was the 1988 port cask matured, however the 1998 PX cask was also exceptional. I’ve always had a soft spot for Glen Moray – and this visit just made it softer.

Glen Moray paddle WW

Just as I thought my Speyside journey had come to an end I spotted a sign for Benromach and duly turned off the main road. Though I had not booked a tour the kind staff showed me around and let me try some of the varied wares.

Sadly, though, this was all I could squeeze into my Speyside trip; it was time to travel to the opposite side of the country. A trip to Scotland would not be complete without the compulsory failure to spot Nessie on the shores of a certain Loch, so I called into Drumnadrochit on my way to the west coast. While there was no monster to be seen, I was able to stumble upon a Whisky Waffle favourite whisky bar: Fiddlers. While there I sampled some local drams: a 25 Year Old Tomatin (business class whisky – you can taste the extra legroom), an Edradour matured in ex-Port Ellen casks (who could resist such an intriguing combo?) and finally a Balblair so dark is could have been black (so sherried it was almost undrinkable – naturally I loved it).

Black Balbalir WW

No filter. That really is the colour.

Before leaving Fiddlers, owner Jon Beach arrived and called me over for a chat – whilst pouring me a dram of Port Ellen as casual as can be. Seriously, this bar – cannot recommend highly enough.

Jon Tweet WW

While the west highlands of Scotland are absolutely stunning, there is one region of the country which is even more spectacular: the Isle of Skye. And this island is home to Talisker Distillery – a Whisky Waffle favourite from our early days of whisky tasting. On my only previous visit to Scotland, I was prevented from visiting Talisker by a freak hiking accident (no whisky was involved) so I was in no way going to miss out this time around. My guide, David, was not only a whisky fan, but also a chef and shared his Talisker BBQ sauce recipe with us while we had a dram of the Amarosso finished Distillers Edition. It was a tasty drop – certainly a step us from the Talisker NAS releases and even pipped the 10 Year Old. I was also able to revisit an old favourite and get my palate roasted by the winter warmer that is the 57 Degrees North.

Talisker WW

Upon leaving the Isle of Skye I had a long drive ahead of me. And yet I couldn’t resist making it even longer by stopping into a beautiful town along the way – and it just happened to contain a distillery!

The town was Oban and I slotted onto a lunchtime tour to check out yet another stillroom. What struck me about Oban was its size – or lack thereof. Of course, it’s miles ahead of the Tassie distilleries I’m used to seeing, but compared to the rest of the Scottish establishments it was rather quaint. This is demonstrated in their cask usage – Oban are the masters of the refill cask – everything they use has been already used by one of Diageo’s other distilleries to mature whisky in for ten or more years. When it gets to Oban it is re-charred, repurposed and ready to go. This is partly why a whisky 14 years old was for so long this distillery’s staple – and partly why the Little Bay is pretty light on for flavour. The real x-factor for Oban is its coastal location imparting a delicate salty layer upon each bottle in their range.

Oban WW

The cherry on the top of my visit was one final dram – from under the bar came an unmarked bottle containing promisingly dark liquid. I was sure it had been aged for longer than most Oban whiskies – and sure enough, it was a 20 year old: straight from the cask. I was assured by the friendly Oban staff it would be unlike anything I’d tried so far on my trip – and they were right, it was absolutely phenomenal. Sadly, though, after concluding this warming and delicious tasting I had to leave Oban in a hurry. You see, I had a ferry to catch…

z Ferry WW

I wonder where this could be going….

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NAS Week: A bad wrap

Non-age statement whisky rightly or wrongly gets a bad rap in the whisky community. So, naturally, we thought we would conclude our week of NAS whisky reviews in the form of a bad rap. Best read with some kind of beat in the background: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9-doKcLwl8&nohtml5=False

Waffle Boys

Wafflers with swag

The lights go crazy as a “sick beat” echoes out across the arena. An announcer with a Glencairn shaped microphone cries out across the crowd:

“You said it couldn’t be done. An entire week of non-age statement whisky! And yet here they are: two rappers who will never use coke. Please give it up for the Wafflerz!!!!”

 

Yo whisky drinkers they got this infatuation

About sticking stuff in barrels for its maturation

But how long for? There’s a bit of debatement

So we thought we might try us some non-age statement

 

Glenlivet’s older spirit, they’ll try to preserve

So they’ve brought out a new drop called the Founders Reserve

I’m sure many bottles will keep getting sold

But it’ll never compare to the 12 year old

 

So I look for something else to fill my cup

Will the real Auchentoshan please stand up

Although the producers claim that its Classic

The 12 and the 3-wood are far more fantastic

 

When you pour some Old Pulteney down your throat

Try not to forget it’s been on a boat

The younger spirit gives it plenty of spice

This is a dram both nautical and nice

 

The Talisker NAS with the tastiest form

Is the one with the Dark before the Storm

But you know the saddest thing about this tale

You can only buy it in travel retail

 

Leaving behind the Isle of Skye

We found a dram of Oban well worth a try

Coming from a Little Bay on the west coast

Was this curious drop we found we liked the most

 

The moral of the story is while some taste rotten

Unworthy replacements that will soon be forgotten

Other NASes are without a doubt far less bleak

And thus concludes non-age statement week

 

#NASweek

 

Single available on itunes soon… =P

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.

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.

★★★