Friday, 6 September 2013

Review - Oban Distillery "Exclusive Tour"- August 2013

Price £30 (£7.50 discount with 'Friends of Classic Malts' distillery pass)

Length: approx 2 hours 

O boy

My first tour of a Diageo distillery and a bit of a mixed bag. 

It started out with the standard
 distillery tour; each area you visited was very much laid out with visitors in mind. Our guide was methodical, a little robotic and unfortunately lacking in any real character. I put this down to the Exclusive Tour starting at 4:00pm; no doubt she was coming towards the end of her shift and had done half a dozen tours already. 

After 45 minutes she handed over to another guide, who was tasked with taking us through the 'exclusive' part of the tour. The new guide was funny, knowledgeable, quirky and had no love for 'The Government'. She took us (six English and two Germans) to the warehouse, opened the door, gave 'The Government' another bashing and then exploded with useful information about the maturation process. Casks, number of barrel rotations to the rack, the difference between the area the visitors get to see (barrels two high,sequentially numbered and lovingly stencilled) and what the other warehouse floors look like (a hotch-potch of casks of different ages stacked high and all barcoded). One more scathing attack on 'The Government' and it was off to the manager's office for a vertical tasting. 

The drams had been laid out in miniature Glencairn glasses and were covered with watch glass. The four drams were the Oban 14, Oban '97 DE, Benrinnes 15 and a ten year old Oban pulled straight from the manager's cask. 

We were invited to nose a dram and give our thoughts, do the same for taste, add a couple of drops of water and then set the glass back in its rack to settle. This was done with all four drams and the guide made notes on a whiteboard of our findings. We then renosed and tasted the drams watered down, again with notes being made to compare the diluted to the undiluted. All the while our guide was peppering the conversation with anecdotes (the Manager of the Caol Ila distillery has a much better view than Oban's manager), information (only refill bourbon casks are used, Oban 14 has no added caramel colouring and neither the malting nor the filling of casks are done on site) and every once in a while she'd disappear into a cupboard and pull out a rare bottling for us to look at. A good example was an unnumbered bottle of the 32 year old. 

We were invited to ask questions and never felt rushed. Once we had asked (and tasted) our fill, the guide presented us with a commemorative Oban glass (a half-tumbler/half-nosing affair) and were led downstairs and back round to the distillery shop. 

The shop itself was well stocked with odds and ends as well as an array of Diageo whiskies. Alas there were no Oban bottlings exclusive to the distillery; it seems as though the NAS cask strength version is no longer available. I picked up the Oban '97 DE for a couple of pounds more than you'd pay at TWE and MoM but still £9 less than The Whisky Shop was hawking it for 200 yards down the road. 


Basic Tour: C
Exclusive add-on: A
Shop: B+

Overall: B - Great premium tour but can't help but feel the standard tour would have left me cold. Lack of distillery exclusive bottling was a shame but as the shop was crammed with most other Diageo whisky brands, I couldn't be too sore. If you're within an hour of Oban, have £30 to spare and hate the British government, I'd heartily recommend it.