When I first started drinking whisky, I purchased my initial bottles with excitement and some trepidation. It was an expensive purchase for me, and one I only ever made a few times a year. I didn’t drink whisky that frequently, either, so to buy a full bottle was a big investment since I knew it would last a while.
The very first bottle I ever picked up with the recommendations from the folks at Milroy’s whisky shop in Soho, was a Dalwhinnie. The next? An Oban 14.
While I definitely enjoyed the Dalwhinnie, it was the Oban that cemented itself in my heart as a favourite, and remains so to this day.
The company does not fill shelves with releases but its 14-year old variant is well-known amongst whisky lovers. So, it was with interest that I saw, and recently received a sample of, the new Oban Little Bay, named as such because ‘Oban’ means ‘Little Bay’ in Gaelic. As a heads-up, this won’t be available in the UK market until the end of the year, according to the company, but will be hitting US shores at a retail price of around $75 (£49) – this is actually a little bit higher than the 14-year old, which is priced in at £45.
As background, this new variant builds on the trend that Diageo’s brands have of using multiple casks for maturation and finishing. In this case, Dr Matthew Crow and Dr Craig Wilson (master blenders) have taken refill casks with new oak ends, European oak ex-sherry casks, refill hogsheads of predominantly American oak, and married them together in small, fairly inactive casks.
Here’s what I made of it:
Oban Little Bay: 43%: $75 (£49):
(c): Copper tea
(n): Baking smells – apple and cinnamon. Then golden syrup, baked custard, some earthy wood notes, vanilla, orange zest, the thick smell of old flowers left in a vase too long, demerara sugar and pralines.
(p): At first, some smoke, then butterscotch, caramelised bananas, brown sugar, white cake, banana Yazoo, a good bit of wood spice, marshmallows and white mint. A great mouthfeel.
(f): Quite short, but pleasant.
In Conclusion: as a note, I tried a wee sample of the Oban 14 alongside this. The latter was much fruitier on the nose, with more of an oily earthy backbone, while on the palate I got more cream, grass and toffee. It was also fresher than the Little Bay. Overall, I still prefer the 14, especially if Little Bay ends up priced in over here at a higher point. But, Little Bay is a solid whisky – it’s not been dumbed down as some might fear because it is NAS. It’s got lots going on and is very enjoyable.