Founded in 1794 by brothers John and Hugh Stevenson, the Oban distillery takes its name from the Gaelic for ‘Little Bay’, reflecting its position on the West Coast as the frontier between the Highlands and Islands. The town of Oban sprung up around the distillery and the harbour, being raised to a burgh of barony by royal charter in 1811. The distillery itself is one of the smallest in Scotland with just two pot stills in operation. After more than seventy years of the Stevenson family’s management, the distillery was sold in 1866 to local businessman Peter Cumstie, before John Walter Higgin bought the concern in 1883, advertising the single malt as “The Finest Sma’ Still Whisky in the Highlands.” Shortly after, the railway line from Glasgow reached the town and increased commerce and tourism in the town, strengthening distribution from the distillery to the main whisky market in Glasgow.
A distillery on the rocks
In 1890, disaster struck as fire broke out in a number of the distillery buildings. While production slowed, Higgin took the opportunity to rebuild the distillery to his own standards. Before the turn of the century, and at the height of the whisky boom, Higgin sold the distillery to a consortium of buyers. Despite the subsequent market crash, Oban managed to thrive and, in 1930, Distillers Company Ltd. (DCL) purchased the distillery. During the rapid industry expansion of the 1960s, Oban’s owners deemed the distillery inadequate and slated it for closure. After four years of silent stills, the decision was reversed and a new stillhouse was built, saving the distillery from extinction.
A classic malt
With the emerging single malt market, a 14-year-old expression from Oban became one of the inaugural expressions of the Classic Malts Selection from DCL when it launched in 1989 and has remained in the stable to this day. With its growing popularity, particularly in the US market, Oban has added additional expressions to its range, including the Distillers Edition, which is double matured in Montilla Fino sherry casks, the non-age statement expression Little Bay, and numerous limited editions as part of the annual Diageo Special Releases. Noted for its light and smoky flavours with a hint of sea salt, Oban’s character is shaped by its long fermentation process, small stills and the salty sea air on the West Coast.
Oban at Auction
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