February 22, 2013

Oban Distiller's Edition - A Sweet Spot Between The Highlands and The Islands

Getting it Right
Diageo's Classic Malts of Scotland each produce an annual special release Distiller's Edition.  These limited bottlings undergo a different aging process in refill desert wine casks.  Diageo classifies the malts into: "Full-Bodied and Smoky"   "Fruity and Spicy"  and  "Light and Floral".

We think it's safe to ignore "Light and Floral".  If you're a light and floral kind of whisky drinker, you may want to stop reading right now.

Our first three samples went right down the line of "Full-Bodied and Smoky".  Lagavulin Distiller's Edition, aged in Ximenez Sherry casks, was one of our favorite whiskies of all time.  Our expectations were set so high, that we were shocked by how mind-blowing the Moscatel Port wine cask Caol Ila Distiller's Edition turned out to be.  Cruising full speed ahead we dove into the Amoroso Sherry-aged Talisker Distiller's Edition, which turned out to be one of the most drinkable whiskies ever (almost dangerously so).  Corporate megalith status aside, Diageo knocked our socks off with this line of whiskies.  Particularly given the price point of these bottles (between $57.99 and $97.99) we've rarely seen higher quality for the money.

Out of our Comfort Zone
So impressed were we with these special holiday bottles that we decided to leave our beastly comfort zone and try something from the "Fruity and Spicy" category.  The Oban Distiller's Edition is one year older than the typical 14-year aging.  The final two years in the barrel introduce a Montilla Fino cask.  Similar to sherries like Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez, Fino is a Spanish desert wine.  However Fino differs because it is not fortified, in other words it's not mixed with brandy.  So the distillers decided to age their fruity malt in a pure wine cask never touched by another spirit.  Interesting choice.  We're going to give Fruity and Spicy the benefit of the doubt and put our beastly predispositions aside.

Oban and the West Highland Lochs
Founded in 1794, Oban Distilleries only maintains two pot stills and is one of the smallest producers in Scotland.  Nestled in the West Highlands, Oban has been described as "where the highlands and the islands meet."  According to their slightly hilarious Malt Whisky Flavour Map, Oban sits right in the center of the whisky profile while Oban Distiller's veers off to the right in the "rich" and "smoky" direction.  The town of Oban would be a good place to create such a whisky, sitting in a picturesque harbor separating the harsh sea islands from the safety of the Highlands.    

Wifey's Tasting Notes

Appearance:  An attractive medium dark copper.  Intriguing.

Nose:  Chamomile tea and orange.  Definitely very appealing, and would be even appealing to the non-whiskey drinker who makes a face every time they sniff a drink.

Body: Somewhat darker in color, but still not terrible dark.  Still has a nice rich caramel flavor. 

Finish:  Has the spiciness of cinnamon, clove and ginger.

Hubby's Tasting Notes

Nose:  A good balance of smoke and spice (yes there's definitely some smoke going on here!).  Rosemary, black pepper, cinnamon sticks and cloves.  Then the fruit comes through with raisins, cherries, and a hint of mellon.

Body:  Clear and crisp on the tongue, not oily or thick, it starts as a nice warm spiced apple cider.  Very smooth, the lightness continues adding warmth without burn.  It's not quite as dry and chesty as our smoky friend from Islay, but this is a beast nonetheless.  There's enough smoke to cut through the alcohol and deliver a complex flavor that's both unique and extremely drinkable.

Finish:  The finish is probably the most interesting aspect of this malt.  It has a lingering smokiness that is quite enjoyable.  But as the smoke drifts off the palate, the fruit and spice remain.  There are some distinctly floral tastes coming through similar to rose water.  Just as described it's like a special little cove between the peat bogs of the islands and the spice and fruit of the highlands.  The smoke drifts up into your nose and through your sinuses while your mouth dwells on fruits and spices.

The Review
Getting outside your comfort zone is good once in a while.  While we still prefer to stick our heads directly into the peat fire and chew the ashes of fresh barley, we'll admit that Fruity and Spicy is a nice change of pace.  The Oban is a great whisky for in-between days, it's impossible to hate, and easy to enjoy.   As a gift for someone who is not a hardcore peat monster, or to fill a decanter at a cocktail party, The Oban Distiller's Edition is worthy of a "B+".  It's more than well worth the money and makes a great addition to your shelf or collection.  We're going to pour another glass just in case we got any of this wrong.  It's important to be thorough.  /smokybeast