The town of Oban in Argyll in the Western Highlands grew around the Oban distillery, one of the oldest in Scotland. Since it was established in 1794, it has played a major role in shaping the lives of the people living around it. The distillery and town were founded by two local brothers John and Hugh Stevenson whose father was a stone mason. The brothers themselves were a builder and a farmer but soon had many businesses from ship building to stone quarrying and building houses. In its early days it was among the best equipped distilleries in the Highlands.
The distillery remained in the family for two generations till 1869 when the sons died and it was bought by Peter Curnstie. J Walter Higgin bought the distillery in 1883 and over the years completely rebuilt it, while keeping the distillery running. This rebuilding process lasted between 1890 and 1894 during which time an interesting discovery was made. Mesolithic human remains were found in a cave behind the distillery.
In 1898 the distillery was bought by Alexander Edward the owner of Aultmore Distillery and came under the umbrella of Oban and Aultmore-Glenlivet Distilleries Ltd. Unfortunately it suffered a major setback when one of its buyers, a blending company, Pattisons of Leith went under. In 1923 it was bought as Oban Distillery by John Dewar & Sons who joined Distillers Company Limited in 1925.
It was not in operation between 1931 and 1937 and again between 1969 and 1972 when a new still house was installed. The number of stills however was unchanged, although the method of heating was changed form coke to steam. The floor maltings closed in 1968 but the structure still remains as an historic building.
Today Oban distillery is owned by Diageo and remains one of the smallest in Scotland. It has just two stills which are rather broad necked when compared to slimmer stills of other distilleries. One other unique feature is the rare rectangular double worm tub used in Oban – not seen any more at other distilleries. The water source is two lochs in Ardconnel known as Loch Gleann and Loch Bhearraidh.
Oban is known as the ‘Gateway to the Isles.’ Its misty, briny character against a background of heather and peat is reflected in the unique Scotch whisky produced at Oban Distillery. Its 14 year old malt is one of the six of the Classic Malt Range of the owners. The whisky has a medium body and flavor is described as zesty and peaty with a smooth texture and finish. Independent bottlers market products of Oban Distillery as 1962, 1972 and 21 year old editions. The older ones are drier and peatier, with a hint of sherry from the Jerez cask in which the whisky is matured.