I’ve had a minor rediscovery of Oban of late, so what a treat it was to see the Highland malt at a full 21 years of age in Diageo’s Special Releases for 2018. This expression, distilled in 1996, was matured in refill European oak butts, an even bigger rarity for the brand than the extended age. I’ve never encountered it in the Special Releases collection to date, but early expressions may predate Drinkhacker.
At cask strength it’s an aggressive, but manageable, whisky. The nose is lively and vibrant, lightly salty with a distinct bacon character, herbal and woody, with hints of sage-infused brown butter. Based on the aroma, you’d expect an intense, savory experience on the tongue — but that would be misleading, because the palate of the whisky spins things in a whole new direction. An initial rush of honey sweetness quickly tempers the upfront savoriness, washing it in notes of pear, melon, and tropical fruits. There’s a saltiness here that develops with time, but when combined with the sweeter elements it gives the whisky a salted caramel note, tinged with a touch of chocolate. The finish is moderately tannic, but this comes across as amaro-esque relief, a little yin and yang to conclude what is a decidedly mysterious but engaging experience. Recommended.