Oban Distillery can be found in the picturesque fishing port of the same name on the west coast of Scotland. It is unique in that it is in the heart of the small town unlike almost every other distillery that is, or at least was established in the countryside.
Oban Distillery was formed in 1794 by Hugh and John Stevenson, local merchants and entrepreneurs. It remained in the Stevenson family until 1866, after which the distillery had several different owners. In 1883 the distillery was sold to J Walter Higgin who rebuilt it and ran it until a large fire broke out in 1890. Higgin sets about rebuilding the distillery to his own standards, during the works his builders discovered Mesolithic remains behind a sealed cave. 8 years later Higgins sold Oban to a consortium at the height of the whisky boom, lead by Pattison Brothers of Leith, Edinburgh.
The Pattisons turned out to be notorious fraudsters, building their whisky empire with borrowed money, boosting their growth by manipulating the stock prices of their company before then issuing more stock to pay off bad debts. But, the Victorian whisky market was booming and everybody wanted a slice of the action allowing them to get away with the fraud unchallenged for over 20 years. There had been rumours of Pattisons’ financial fragility as early as 1894 and the house of cards finally came crumbling down in 1898. Their debts (some three quarters of a million pounds – equivalent to £100 million today) outweighed income 1000 fold.
In 1930 Scottish Malt Distillers bought Oban, but production soon stopped between 1931 and 1937 and again between 1969 and 1972. The later pause being partly as a result of pressures for the distillery to be moved out of town due to lack of space. By 1972 a still house was built and the distilleries tenure in the town was cemented. It is now under the custody of Diageo.
Oban produces two main malts, a 14 year old that was first issued in 1988 and a double matured version that was released in 1998. As well as standard bottlings, the occasional limited release is available.
Interestingly, Oban Distillery is overlooked by McCaig Tower, an odd and almost romanesque amphitheatre that towers over the distillery and the town. It was commissioned in 1897 by local banker John Stuart McCaig, the aim of the tower was to provide work for local stonemasons and a lasting monument to the McCaig family. Any other purpose for the tower is widely contested locally but it certainly dominates the town.