Wine has tasted fabulous as far back as my memory (legally) allows me. But I once hated Whisky. It became firmly aligned with regret and college. Coke, Sprite, or whatever fizzy high-fructose corn syrup to hand would mollify it. But Whisky just tasted hot and gross. That is, until I went to Scotland.
Read about our palate-widening visit to Glendronach Distillery here. Ever since, Whisky claims a special place in my heart and cupboard.
In short, cheap Whisky tastes just that, cheap. One has to spend a bit to get skilled distillers and good quality oak barrels. Even then, as with anything new, one has to learn to like it.
Context helps. Pick a cold, miserable night. Be in a positive mood: alcohol is steroids for depression. Avoid distractions: binge watching a show or movie might lead to mindless drinking. Also, avoid ice like the plague. Pour an ounce into a tulip glass with a drop or two of your cleanest water.
Today, we take a baby step but with an approachable spirit as complex and interesting as good wine. Oban, 14 Year Old, Single Malt Scotch Whisky $45-$60/750ml
Oban is old, quirky, and small. They are one of the last surviving distilleries from the 1700s, founded in 1794. It began as a boat building yard, tannery, and brewery. Today, they are one of Scotland’s smallest (0.7 million liters per year). Even the building is small, forcing their wooden condenser to run across rooftops. They also use the smallest legal stills. Unlike most, Oban has made Single Malts (i.e. Estate Wine) since 1880.
Its location makes it special. Most distilleries exist in Scotland’s Northeastern Highlands. Oban, however, survives on the brutal Atlantic coast as one of the last West Highlanders.
How is it?
It has a clear medium intense gold color, bright straw highlights, and lean legs. Aromas smell clean, modulated, and pleasantly complex. Orange oil dominates a frame of juniper, cocoa powder, and died vanilla bean. A notable briney line runs through it. Flavors match aromas with ample fruit and golden delicious apple. It feels dry, with snappy, woody tannins up front, a muscular heat, a lean, medium body, and a soft, fruity finish of medium plus length.
Oban’s 14 is very good (4 of 5), approachable for beginners, but complex and reflects its sea-swept coastal home. They suggest pairing (yes, Whisky food pairings can work) with chicken satay or candied ginger. I just say enjoy it.