the whisky lounge - a journal tracking a whisky maturation project involving a newly-acquired oak cask and a significant amount of patience

Sunday, March 9, 2008

David, Meet Goliath

I'm not shy about my appreciation of Oban 14. I like how it's not quite an Islay, not quite a Highland, but has hints of both. It's not overpowering. It won me over with subtlety and smoothness. It's got to be either my favourite or a close second. When I want robust and bold, it's Lagavulin. When I want smooth and sophisticated, it's Oban.

So, in a celebrity deathmatch of sorts, I figured why not pit the Whisky Works against the Oban to see how it fares? I admit right from the start that I expected it to fare poorly, given the pedestal upon which I have perched Oban. I also admit that I was pleasantly surprised.

Do you remember when I compared the Whisky Works to a Talisker 10 last week? I commented that both were nice, but the Talisker was the more delicate of the two, and the Whisky Work was the bolder. The same holds true here. If I can steal an analogy from music, I'd describe Whisky Works as a bass and Oban as a tenor. Whisky Works is the rhythm section; Oban is the soloist.

There's a lightness to Oban. A grass-hay-seaweed-malt touch to the nose that seems, well, light. There's a bit of butter and salt, but nothing like the toffee and chocolate of the Whisky Works. Coming at it from the other direction, the Whisky Works is all over the bottom end of the nose: heavy fruits, toffee, chocolate. The first word I came up with for the nose of the Whisky Works in comparison was "deeper." It doesn't exhibit the fresh herbal scent that you can find in Oban. If it's there, it's been overpowered by the strength of the butterscotch-ish fruit.

Both are quite nice on the nose, but are so unlike as to be only distant cousins.

On the tongue, the Oban stands out right away as having a thicker texture. Weirdly enough, its light smokiness makes the smoke in the nose of the Whisky Works much more apparent. As was the case with the Talisker comparison of last week, it's difficult to parse the flavours of the Oban after a sip of the Whisky Works since the latter is such a strongly flavoured dram. The malt, the grain, the smoke - they're all there, they're all subtle, and they're all very well balanced. The Whisky Works is less gentle about things, but exhibits a longer finish with a greater spice and more vanilla.

All in all, Oban still comes out ahead, though a 1-on-1 comparison is tough since Oban is a very subtle creature while Whisky Works is bold. I like them both for different reasons.

After another couple of weeks in the cask, I expect some of the drama in the Whisky Works will have calmed down a bit. I imagine it will always remain a more strongly-flavoured whisky regardless of how long it's left in the cask, but a bit longer being infused with casky goodness won't hurt, and might make it a mellower dram. And in my book, mellow is a good thing.

Until text time,

Ian

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