Oban distillery is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, having been established in 1794. Additionally, it is especially unusual for being one of the last surviving urban distilleries.
Oban forms a frontier between the Highlands and the Islands, both geographically and also in terms of the character of the single malt. Oban distillery has a range of official bottlings that currently includes a 14 year old, and a Distillers' Edition, which comes in roughly the same age. The previous bottlings of Oban include a 12 year old, a 13 year old “Manager’s Dram”, a 20 year old, 21 year old, and 32 year old. The distillery’s 14 year old bottling has been featured as part of Diageo’s Classic Malt Series. Independent bottlings, on the other hand, are extremely difficult to find. There have actually only been three ever recorded, which are a 30 year old bottling by Cadenhead, released in 1993, a Gordon & MacPhail bottling of a cask filled in 1972, and an 18 year old bottling released by Signatory Vintage.
Standing at a production capacity of 670’000 liters, Oban is Diageo’s second smallest distillery in terms of production, larger only than Royal Lochnagar. The distillery uses water from Loch Glenn a’Bhearraidh in its production. The distillery is one of a very few distilleries in Scotland still using the traditional “worm tubs”, which are placed outside of the still house.
There is only one pot still and one wash still at Oban distillery. The wash still stands at a capacity of 12’600 liters, and the spirit still stands at a slightly smaller capacity of 7'200 liters. Oban’s pot stills are short and have a lantern shape, with large, rounded spherical lids, a constricting piece at the bottom of the neck, and conical necks.
The malt used in production is sourced from Diageo’s central maltings. The distillery actually used their own malting floors until 1968, when they were decommissioned. The distillery uses a combination of peated and unpeated malt, although at the moment the distillery has been using more unpeated malt than peated.
Oban distillery has a small, on-site dunnage warehouse that is used to house the maturing casks. The distillery uses a combination of white oak and sherry casks, as well as a couple of special casks for the Distillers' Editions, including Montilla Fino Sherry casks.
Oban distillery is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, having been established in 1794. Additionally, it is especially unusual for being one of the last surviving urban distilleries. The distillery was founded by two brothers, John and Hugh Stevenson, who were from Oban themselves. The distillery was founded on the site of an old brewery. The distillery has been incredibly influential on the town itself, as it was a major source of industry. Production at the site began in 1794, and the two brothers ran the operations together until Hugh Stevenson died in 1820. Upon learning of his fathers’ death, Hugh’s son, Thomas, returned from Buenos Aires to manage production at Oban distillery. Thomas acquired the remaining stocks in the distillery in 1822, therefore gaining total control of the site. Despite Thomas Stevensons’ strong start to running the distillery, by 1829, a series of unsuccessful investments left Thomas bankrupt, and highly in debt. Keeping things in the Stevenson family, Thomas’ eldest son, John, took over operations at the distillery. John bought Oban distillery from his fathers’ creditors for the price of £1’500 in 1831.
After operating successfully under his management for over 30 years, the distillery was sold on to Peter Cumsie in 1866. In 1883, Cumsie sold Oban distillery on to James Walter Higgins, who refurbished and modernized the site. In 1898, the distillery was taken over by the Oban & Aultmore-Glenlivet Company. Alexander Edwards took the helm of the operation, and a consortium made up of John Dewar & Sons, James Buchanan & Company and White Horse Distillers also became involved in the running of the distillery.
Around about this time, the distillery suffered enormous losses due to the Pattison crisis. Pattison’s blends were one of the major buyers of Oban single malt. After suffering for a few years, the distillery managed to regain some traction, and in 1923 the Oban Distillery Company, which was owned by Buchanan-Dewar, bought the site. In 1925 Distillers Company Limited, who took over Oban distillery, bought out Buchanan-Dewars. In 1930, the administration of the site was transferred to Scottish Malt Distillers. The distillery was mothballed from 1931 to 1937 due to the harsh economic climate. Following production re-launching at the site, the distillery prospered. In 1968, the distillery stopped using its own floor maltings, and the entire site underwent a major reconstruction. Following this large-scale reconstruction, the distillery reopened in 1972. The distillery has continued to thrive as it has progressed into the twenty-first century. Diageo, who acquired the site through the UDV merger in 1989, now operates the distillery. Under Diageo, the distillery has continued to release new expressions from its warehouse, a trend that will hopefully continue for years to come.
Oban distillery has an award-winning visitors centre that provides visitors with the opportunity to tour the facility, an impressive gift shop, and a small museum about the history of the site.