Oban Whisky is a single malt whisky brewed at the Oban distillery, situated in the middle of the town of Oban, making it one of the few urban distilleries left in Scotland. It is located on the town’s main thoroughfare and is one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries dating back to 1794.
Oban is situated on the West coast of Scotland, and the distillery produces about 670,000 liters per year using only two stills. A 12,600-liter wash still and a spirit still with a capacity of 7,200 liters, making it the second smallest Scotch distillery owned by Diageo.
History of Oban Whisky
The Oban distillery was founded by two brothers, John and Hugh Stevenson, and operated by the Stevensons until Peter Curnstie bought the distillery in 1866. Walter Higgin acquired the distillery in 1883 and rebuilt it in 1890.
In 1898 Alexander Edward, who also owned Aultmore distillery, purchased Oban but suffered losses in the first year due to the blending company ‘Pattison’s of Leith,’ to whom they were selling most of their scotch, closing down in 1923.
Oban was sold to Dewars and became part of Distillers Company in 1925. The distillery did not operate from 1931 until 1937 and then from 1969 to 1972 while a new still house was built.
Oban became an early player in the increasing single malt whisky business with the launch in 1979 of the Oban 12-Years Highland Scotch Whisky bottling. Diageo acquired it in 1989 and still owns the distillery.
Oban 14-Year-Old was selected as part of Diageo’s Classic Malts collection, in which six whiskies were selected that epitomized the style of Scotland’s whisk-producing regions. Oban 14-year-old single malt was chosen as an example of a West Highlands malt.
How is Oban Single Malt Whisky Made?
The main rules that define Scotch Whisky are as follows:
- It must be made using malted barley and water and distilled in Scotland.
- The spirit must spend at least three years aging in oak casks.
- The Whisky must be matured in Scotland.
The following processes are followed to produce Oban single-malt Scotch whisky
The Oban distillery malting floors were decommissioned in 1968. The malt now used is sourced from Diageo’s central maltings. A combination of peated and unpeated is used, although, recently, the distillery has been using more unpeated than peated malt.
The dried malted barley is ground in a mill and, now identified as grist, is mixed with hot water in a mash tun. During the mashing stage, starch in the barley is converted to sugars. The sugary liquid that results is known as ‘wort.’
Oban has four wooden washbacks made of Douglas Fir. 32000 liters of cooled wort is pumped into a single washtub where yeast is added, and the sugars are converted to alcohol.
Oban has an unusually long fermentation period of 4 days and up to 110 hours, producing a beer-like alcohol with fruity orange flavors and an alcohol content of 9% ABV.
The two copper pot stills at Oban distillery are steam operated and follow a double distillation where the first distillation is in the wash still. Next, the beer from the washbacks is pumped into the wash still and slowly heated.
At approximately 78 degrees Celsius, the alcohol vapourises and escapes through the neck of the still, where it is condensed. The first distillation in the wash still produces an alcohol content of 25-30% ABV.
During the second distillation, the run is separated into three stages. The first and third stages, known as the head and tail, are discarded, and only the middle cut or ‘heart’ is placed in oak casks for aging and matures into Scotch whisky.
Selecting the correct portion of the run to save can significantly impact the final product’s flavor. Experienced distillers use the spirit-safe hygrometer to determine when to separate the heart.
A worm tub is a condenser that turns spirit vapor back into liquid. It is a wooden tub with copper pipes coiled inside and submerged in cold water. The spirit vapor is sent into the copper pipes, where it cools down and turns back into liquid form.
Oban is one of only 16 distilleries in Scotland that still use worm tubs. Worm tubs typically have meaty notes due to the short contact time with the copper. Contact time with the copper coils increases by increasing the water temperature in the tubs.
To reduce the meaty notes in Oban whisky, Oban runs their tubs hot, at 45-50 degrees Celsius plus, they have two worms nested within one another, thus giving more contact time with the copper.
The selected middle cut is pumped into American white oak ex-bourbon casks and laid down to mature in warehouses until it is ready for consumption.
Most Oban distillate no longer matures directly on the company premises. Instead, it is spread over several locations across Scotland as the Oban distillery no longer has the area and capacity to store all the maturing barrels.
Prices, Variations, and Sizes
Oban distillery has relatively low production volumes and focuses on delivering an authentic, quality product rather than quantity. The following is the core range of Oban whiskey available:
Oban 14 Year Old
Oban 14-Year-Old was launched as part of Diageo’s Classic Malts Selection range in 1988 and is the Western Highland representative in this series. It is lightly peated, aged in American white oak ex-bourbon casks, and bottled at 43% ABV.
Oban-14-year-old is a full-bodied, single malt whisky with a warming taste of tropical fruits and notes of sea salt and peaty smokiness. It has a long smooth finish with oak wood dryness.
Oban Distillers Edition
The Distillers edition is a 14-year-old expression that is further matured by finishing in a Montilla fino cask, resulting in a fruitier whisky. The Distillers Edition does not carry an age statement but does carry the age of distillation.
Distillers Edition has a golden honey color, with aromas of ripe fruit and sea salt and an impressive depth of character, with flavors of honey and fruit notes that combine well with notes of cinnamon and light smoke. It is bottled at 43% ABV
Oban Little Bay
Oban Little Bay was originally part of their retail travel offering but is now part of their core range bottled at 750ml and 43% ABV.
Little Bay is a blend of whiskey that has matured in refill ex-bourbon hogsheads, oak sherry casks, and ex-bourbon refill casks with a new end. It is then further aged and allowed to blend in small oak casks of 180-190 liter capacity.
Oban Little Bay has a dark amber color and initially a rich and full flavor of toasted malt, dried fruits, and orange peel, leading to notes of clove and oak. It has a light, slightly dry finish.
Oban 2008 12-Year-Old Special Releases 2021
This 12-Year -Old single malt whisky, distilled in 2008 and matured for 12 years in freshly-charred American oak casks, was bottled as part of Diageo’s 2021 Special Releases. It has flavor notes of lemon, oak spice, and salty sea air with an oily pepper finish.
Oban 18-Year-Old was awarded the 2020 SIP Gold Medal and Innovation Star Award. This whiskey has been matured for 18 years and is a smooth combination of rich toffee balanced by dried fruit, sea salt, and light peat notes, leaving a long drying finish.
It is bottled at 43% ABV and is best enjoyed neat in a tumbler. A splash of water may be added if desired.
Average Retail Prices for Oban Single Malt Scotch Whisky
|Oban 14-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky
|Oban Distillers Edition
|Oban 2008 12-Year-Old Whisky
|Oban Little Bay
|Oban 18-Year Single Malt Whisky
More Expensive Bottles of Oban Whisky
Oban 32-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch
This Oban single malt was distilled in 1969, and 6000 bottles were filled 32 years later at natural cask strength of 55.1% ABV. The average quoted price for a 750ml bottle is $4146.
The following are exciting alternatives to Oban 14 single malt whiskey:
Balvenie 14-Year-Old Caribbean Cask
Balvenie Caribbean Cask is initially matured in a cask for 14 years. It is placed in Caribbean rum casks to produce a smooth, well-rounded, relatively sweet English toffee flavor with a long and warm finish. It is bottled at 43% ABV
Talisker 10-Year-Old is part of Diageo’s Classic Malt series and is produced at the Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye and is aged in American oak ex-bourbon casks for a minimum of 10 years and bottled at 45.8% ABV.
It has a rich dried fruit sweetness with barley malt flavors and a long, warming, peppery finish.
Talisker 8 Single Malt Whiskey is distilled on the Isle of Skye and has a creamy texture with a subtle sweet smokey taste with notes of chocolate and a pinch of black pepper. Talisker 8 is remarkably smooth for a whisky, with an alcohol content of 58% ABV.
Dalmore 12 is matured for the first nine years in American ex-bourbon casks, and then half the consignment is transferred to ex-oloroso sherry casks for three years before the two styles are reunited after 12 years.
The whisky produced has a rich sherry flavor and notes of dried fruit with a touch of vanilla and a roasted coffee flavor and is bottled at 43% ABV.
How to Drink Oban Single Malt Scotch Whisky
According to the purists, Oban Whisky should be savored neat or with a splash of water to appreciate the complex flavors of the single malt. It can also be enjoyed on the rocks or mixed with soda or ginger ale if that is your preference.
Does Oban use coloring?
It is claimed that caramel coloring is used to darken the whisky and added to many Diageo-owned whiskies.
How do you pronounce Oban in Scottish?
It’s pronounced OH-Bin
What does Oban mean in Scotch Gaelic?
In Scotch Gaelic, An t-Oban means “little bay.”