Most readers of this blog know that I am mostly a bourbon guy. But, scotch and Irish whiskies also hold a place in my heart. Catherine and my wedding anniversary is Saturday, which reminds me of our lovely honeymoon when we went to Scotland. We are in the middle of our Easter cool snap, and I drank some scotch on Sunday evening. So, I thought I would open up another bottle from Diageo’s Game of Thrones Collection, and one I bought two bottles of when I bought the vertical, the Night’s Watch Oban Bay Reserve. Yeah, I snagged and extra bottle of the Oban from the GOT collection. And not just because it is the cool Night’s Watch black bottle that stands out from the rest of the collection. Although, yeah, that’s partially the reason. But the Oban has been a part of my whiskey experience ever since I first tried it in college.
I previously reviewed the Lagavulin GOT release right before the last episode of GOT premiered, ironically one year ago. All of these whiskies in the GOT collection come from Diageo owned distilleries. I haven’t done a blog review of the Oban on its own (and I need to) but I did review it as part of a blog I did about a curated scotch tasting I did for some friends. I was asked to provide a tour of the various types of scotch from all around Scotland. I selected the Oban as one of them and I wrote:
Oban 14 year old – named for the town of Oban on the west coast of Scotland, which is Gaelic for Little Bay, Oban Distillery is one of the smallest commercial distilleries in Scotland that is partially in an old cave where early humans lived 5000 years before Christ. The town grew up around the distillery so Oban has been unable to expand and still uses only two stills for its whisky. The whisky is very representative of scotch as a whole to me; it has the fruity notes of Speyside and other Highland malts, a whiff of peat and smoke (Oban is the jumping off port to Islay where smoky peaty whiskies are the norm) and the salt flavors of the sea that other coastal and island distilled whiskies have, but without going overboard on any of it. To me, this is a perfectly balanced traditional scotch.
One important note is that Diageo likely sources ex bourbon casks from itself, so this is likely aged in used cooperage that housed Bulleit, Orphan Barrel, or Dickel.
One thing about this scotch is that many Americans mispronounce it, along with many other single malt scotch names. This is not O-Ban, sounding like Ray-Ban which a buddy of mine in college called it when I first tried this scotch, this is the O-bun, with an emphasis on the O. For some reason, the word “the” goes in front of Oban whenever you reference this scotch. You don’t say I’d like a glass of Oban; you say you would like a glass of “the” Oban. I’m not sure why but it is just thing. But take The Balvenie, there is a “the” on the label, so I get that you call it “The Balvenie”. There is no “the” on Oban labels though. There is some social convention surrounding this scotch I can’t pretend to understand, but can only follow it.
One other important thing to note is the Oban can prevent food poisoning from Scottish Oysters. On the first day of our honeymoon, we dined at the Cannonball Restaurant and Bar for lunch, so named because it is far enough so a cannonball fired from Edinburgh Castle could hit this restaurant. We dined on these lovely Scottish oysters, and while Catherine had iced tea or a soft drink or something, I had two drams of the Oban and a dram of Monkey Shoulder that my waiter wanted me to try, on the house. Later that evening, my poor wife Catherine was sick as a dog from those oysters, and I took care of her, and trudged my way after a long day up and down the royal mile to a Tesco’s food mart for some soup, crackers, and pepto bismal for Cat, and a bottle of Glenmorangie for me. I ate the same thing, but with three shots of scotch whisky, was totally fine. They don’t call this stuff the water of life (Uisce Beatha) for nothing.
So, what do we have with this special Night’s Watch release? It is a non-aged stated 86 proof version of the Oban. Most Oban releases are aged stated, and the 14 year old is the standard release in the United States. However, prior to this release, they did release Oban Little Bay, a non-aged stated scotch aged in Hogsheads, which are huge barrels created from used bourbon barrels, typically twice the size, rather than standard bourbon barrels. I like Little Bay, so I am betting I will like this.
The color is a beautiful dark straw color, showing that it has been aged probably around 12 or more years. It might even be a hair darker than the fourteen year old, although I would not put it past Diageo of adding a little coloring to their whisky which is allowed in Scotland. Beautiful legs on the swirl. On the nose is lovely malty goodness, a whiff of sea salt, a twinge of peat, lemon. Mouthwatering. On the palate, the mouthfeel is very nice and thick. Maltiness, lemon, sea salt, and light peat dance across the tongue with a little bit of cherries from those bourbon barrels. The finish is long on lemon and sea salt that then turns to black pepper and light caramel. For such a low proof scotch, this really has this long lingering finish. I don’t think this was watered down much, but rather barreled at a lower proof. I had Catherine try it, and she agreed there is a lot going on with this scotch.
This is a really nicely done release of the Oban. The more I sip on it the more it grows on me. The flavor profile strike me that there is definitely some older aged whiskey in this, mixed with some whiskey that may be younger but punchier, to a delightful result. I definitely recommend this one. I had some Oban 18 (which is just so silky stupid smooth) and Little Bay on Sunday night, and I can say this one is definitely different, and definitely more interesting. But, you really just can’t go wrong with a bottle of the Oban. For me, it is all of scotch whiskey distilled down to a single bottle, from a coastal town in the west of Scotland that is still part of the highlands. And, my ordering it in a restaurant in Scotland scored me a free drink, because apparently it is not what most Americans order and I was able to pull off the whole scotch sophisticate thing even before Glenmorangie House got a hold of me and taught me how very little I knew about scotch and how to drink it.
One last note, because of my upcoming wedding anniversary. If you are a whiskey drinker, and I mean serious but not necessarily a connoisseur, like the Muslims have Mecca, we have Kentucky and Scotland. You owe it to your life to go to those places. To see them. Experience them. And when you drink those whiskies later, wherever you are, you remember the places and the people. And I remember wonderful times with my wife Catherine, in both of those places, whenever I drink a whiskey. She’s a wonderful wife, lover, partner and co-parent. And she’s the best drinking buddy you could possibly have. It’s really not even fair for me to have a wife like that. We will have lock down anniversary dinner this Saturday, but we will celebrate memories of many places, but especially Scotland and Kentucky.
Kentucky, 2017, Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort
Scotland, 2015, Edinburgh Castle