Oban 14 vs Macallan 12

Oban 14 vs Macallan 12

Welcome to the big leagues.

Today, we look at two of the most delicious and well-regarded single malt scotch whiskies on the market — Oban 14 Year Old and the Macallan 12 Years Old. If you’ve made it this far, chances are you’ve graduated from the standard introductory brands and are ready to indulge in some Premium and Ultra-Premium single malt scotch expressions.

But if you’re going to pay up to $100 per bottle or are eyeing a high-end pour at your whiskey tavern, some due diligence may be in order. So, in this post, we’ll look at how the use of things like sherry casks, copper worms and peated malted barley add to the complex flavor profiles of these two drams.


Marketing copy on the label of the 14-year-old expression translates the word Oban to mean ‘Little Bay of Caves,’ describing the area on the shores of Lorn along the Barrain cliffs that has been home to inhabitants since 5,000 BCE.

More recently, the Stevenson brothers — John and Hugh — opened the Oban Distillery in the remote Hebrides shore in 1794. The distillery remained remote until a railroad opened Oban to trade in 1888.

Oban in Scots Gaelic means’ little bay’ and describes the distillery’s location near the shore of Sound of Kerrera on the coast of the Hebrides. At the plant’s founding in 1793, the town of Oban had not yet been founded. In its early days, the location worked as a brewery, producing ale for inhabitants of the newly laid town. After a few years, the first distillations were recorded.

The Macallan Distillery was established in 1824 by Alexander Reid on the site of the Easter Elchies House, constructed in 1700. Until 1966, the spirits distilled at the site were used as a component in blended whiskies produced by merchants in places like Glasgow, Edinburgh and London. But in the late 1960s, the brand kicked off a marketing campaign that helped elevate the brand by crucial placements in the American and international markets, with an early campaign anchored by placements in the New York Times crossword puzzle.

Mash Bills & Fermentation

Both the Macallan and Oban are single malt scotch whisky products — which are required by law to be produced in Scotland at a single distillery using a mash bill or grain recipe of 100 percent malted barley.

When comparing products with identical ingredients, the techniques utilized during the malting, fermentation, distillation and maturation processes significantly impact the resulting flavor.

A critical distinction between the two is the use of peated barley by Oban. Barley trucked in from Speyside is ground on-site in the mill room with equipment about 80 years old. The barley is lightly malted using Scottish peat, giving Oban its mild smoky character. This subtle light-peat complexity is dramatically different than the in-your-face flavor of Islay peated malts like Laphroaig and Ardbeg. This is a throwback to the character of many of the malts that came from the Island region.

The Macallan is unpeated.

Fans of the Macallan brand should keep an eye as the spirit that has come off the new equipment at the recently renovated distillery is matured and eventually bottled. Because nuances in fermentation and distillation vary greatly based on the equipment, fans should take a keen interest in how the new £120m facility — which was fitted out with new Forsythe copper stills and fermentation equipment — impacts the finished product in the decades to come.

Distillation & Production Attributes

The Oban facility is relatively small — just over 46,000 square feet — and all of its spirits come off two stills — one beer still and one spirit still. And the entire plant is operated by a production crew of only seven people. Their small capacity helps explain Oban’s small volume and availability on the international marketplace.

The water used in the production process flows from the nearby Luachrach Loch.

Rather than using a modern condenser, Oban utilizes a worm tub in which a long, circular and narrowing copper tube winds inside a tub in which cool water slowly reduces the temperature of the vapor until it condenses back into liquid.

Oban’s small, onion-shaped, slow-running stills give the spirit a sulphury character and viscous mouthfeel. But to keep the flavor light, the distillers take breaks between runs to open the doors and expose the inside of the pot to oxygen — which helps rejuvenate the copper.

Today, there are five official whisky regions, which are tied to scotch’s unique region of geographic indication allowing it to be a protected product in international trade through pacts with the European Union, the United States and most of the whisky-consuming world. But when the UK government updated the Scotch Whisky Regions in 2009, they discontinued a historical region — the Islands — and rolled it into the Highlands.

The highlands off the coast of the Hebrides archipelago include an array of islands once home to vibrant small distilleries resembling Oban in many ways. But as global consumption of scotch diminished in the latter half of the 20th century and many producers were acquired by major international spirits producers, and market forces caused the closure of many of these Island distilleries.

Oban describes its style as West Highland Malt, a nod to its geography and production approach. Although on the mainland, its small size, slow distillation process and proximity to the sea help recall the Island style of scotch that is no longer a recognized region while acknowledging the Highland region and influences.

The Macallan — by contrast — has an enormous, recently renovated distillery compound that aims to help the luxury brand take advantage of rabid consumer demand in the luxury drinks market by increasing supply.

The Macallan has 24 stills housed under sloping turf-domed roofs alternately said to resemble the rolling Scottish countryside, the ancient Scottish ‘Broch’ or roundhouse or the opening scene from the children’s television show ‘Teletubbies.’

Like Oban, the Macallan utilizes short, squat stills to produce its spirit newmake.


Both Oban 14 and the Macallan 12 are Age Statement Whiskies meaning the number of years printed on the label is legally required to reflect the youngest casks in any particular batch.

The Oban Distillery is mere steps away from the Sound of Kerrera, which gives the whisky maturing inside the oak casks in the maturation interaction with the salty sea air as the waves crash along the harbor walls of the small coastal town.

Oban’s proximity to the ocean gives the final spirit a minerality that works overtime to add complexity to the light and fruity new make off the still.

The Macallan is influenced by its prevalent use of sherry butts and casks during the maturation of its extensive range of whiskies. This adds a ruby color, sweet character and luscious mouthfeel to its whisky.

Ownership, Price Point & Value

Oban is owned and operated by Diageo, PCL — the London-based drinks giant that is the number-one producer of distilled spirits in general — and scotch whisky in particular — in the world. A 750mL bottle of Oban Single Malt Scotch 14 Year Old will run about $95 and is bottled at 43 percent alcohol by volume, or 86-proof.

The Macallan is owned and operated by the Edrington Group, a family-owned business based in Glasgow, Scotland. A 750mL bottle of Double Cask 12-Year-Old costs about $67 and is bottled at 40 percent ABV, or 80-proof.

Tasting Notes

Oban 14-Year Old West Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Description: In the glass, Oban 14 is the color of amber, or polished mahogany with a red-brown hue. It has moderate legs at 86-proof.

Nose: Distinct malty sweetness, with a faint saline mineral note and hint of smoke. Mint, oak, almonds, and butterscotch.

Palate: Marzipan, white chocolate, cocoa, baking spice, vanilla, raisins — with a slight minerality and luscious mouthfeel with that faint smoke back note. 

Finish: Honey, berry, chocolate, baking spice, herbal tea. Lingering spices.

The Macallan Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky 12 Years Old Double Cask

Description: In the glass, the whisky has a tawny color with a straw-gold hue. It has moderate legs at 43 percent alcohol by volume, or 86 proof.

Nose: On the nose, notes of walnut and malty cereal notes, with vanilla, caramel, herbal aromas and black pepper.

Tongue: Vanilla and butterscotch, with cinnamon and a nutty character.

Finish: Slight citrus note with black pepper, tobacco and leather.


Perfect balance.

These two whiskies offer a lot of complexity and flavor by focusing on the craft of whisky-making.

Whether it’s the touch of smoke that hints of lightly peated malt, or fruity flavors from interactions during fermentation, there is no lack of depth for the whisky lover to explore when sampling these two well-crafted single malt whiskies.

So, if you’re up for it, taste these two side-by-side if you get the chance, and see if your palate prefers the light, floral and slightly sweet flavors found in the Macallan or the briny sea-salt and wisp-of-smoke offered by Oban.