One of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, Oban is at the meeting place between land and sea known as the 'Gateway to the Isles.' Cherished for the indigenous 'kiss of the sea' flavor while preserving its malty fruitiness, this 'classic malt' is a more blasé style that is the perfect balance between Islay and Highland. Though not as rare as some of our other offerings, we would not be a legitimate purveyor of Scotch, if it did not make our list.
Oban is the frontier between the West Highlands and the Islands; the meeting place between land and sea. A perfect, sheltered harbour makes it the principal seaport for the Isles and the capital of the West Highlands. It has a mild, temperate climate, warmed by the Gulf Stream and washed (too often, some might say) by the soft rain that often falls hereabouts. This misty, maritime character, with a background of heather and peat, is perfectly echoed in the malt whisky produced at Oban. Oban is made using only the finest barley, malted to the distillery's own particular specification. The tiny lantern-shaped copper pot stills are among the smallest in Scotland; their rich, fruity malt is then slowly condensed in wooden worm tubs that sit outside among the rooftops, before being aged in oak casks for at least 14 years. In effect, the town grew up around the distillery and since its foundation in 1794 it has played an important role in local life. Distillery owners and managers to the present day have embraced this tradition of community involvement and hospitality - a tradition that came naturally to John and Hugh Stevenson, founders not only of the distillery at Oban but of the town itself. They were local men - their mother had come from Port Appin upon the death of their father, a stone mason. Together they established a boat building yard and a tannery and, in the 1790s a brewery, which had become Oban distillery by 1794. Two further generations of Stevensons continued the family's business interests in Oban. Hugh's son, Thomas, who had been farming in Buenos Aires, returned and purchased the distillery and the slate quarries from his father and uncle's trustees. Later he built the Caledonian Hotel, but, alas, he ran into financial difficulties through supporting his brother in a printing business in Edinburgh. He attempted to satisfy his creditors by supplying them with slates and whisky. His son, John, who had been living in Peru, but who returned and took over the running of the distillery in 1830, helped Thomas. He managed Oban until shortly before his death in 1869, when it passed out of the family. In 1883 the unforgettably named J. Walter Higgin bought the distillery. Between 1890 and 1894 he dismantled and rebuilt it bit by bit, in order to keep it in production - such was the demand for Oban's malt. He carefully replicated the famously small stills and other traditional features in order to preserve the quality of the whisky. The distillery buildings and their internal arrangements remain almost the same today as they were following Higgin's refurbishment.