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Oban pride themselves on being one of the smallest (46,069 sq feet - second only to Royal Lochnagar), oldest, most traditional and authentic Scotch whisky distilleries. Oban (pronounced “OH-Bin”) is a Gaelic word that means “Little Bay”. The distillery employs a total of only seven staff and produces a modest 670 thousand litres of whisky per year, which is small by today's industrial production standards. Oban claims that their production methods haven’t changed since 1794 and that they’ve never expanded or moved the distillery. This shows impressive restraint in an age of hyper-expansion across many scotch whisky distilleries. Oban claims that this restraint is all in the name of the authenticity and quality of their whisky. They claim that 50 hours in the washback would be sufficient to produce the alcohol needed to make their whisky, but they leave it for 110 hours to generate more flavour. This means that they produce less whisky, but it’s worth it for the extra quality of the final product. Likewise, running the stills hotter or faster would speed up the cycle time and produce more output, but that spirit would be “harsher”, which they don’t feel is an acceptable compromise. Given the small scale—of both the distillery and the team—and traditional production methods of Oban, it’s almost tempting to label them a craft distiller. The Oban distillery sits at sea level on the north-western coast of the Scottish mainland at the northern tip of the Kintyre Peninsula (making Oban a Highland Whisky) in its namesake town of Oban. Oban claim that the distillery is 208 steps to the sea (we haven’t verified this!). When the distillery was first built, it was right on the seafront, but as the town and harbour grew up around it, the seafront has been pushed back by a whopping 208 steps. The building itself has a slate roof which is ingeniously able to lift so that they can access the machinery to replace, move or maintain it. The distillery has only four rooms:

The mill house

The mill house is said to contain the oldest piece of machinery in the distillery—the mill itself which is said to have been manufactured by Bobby Mills in the 1930s.

The mash house

The mash is made here using Scottish barley and water sourced from the nearest loch, which is three miles from the distillery. The distillery only produces six batches of mash a week.

The tun room

The tun room is where the fermentation process takes place before distillation.

The still house

The still house contains only two copper stills. Oban still uses a worm tub to cool and condense the spirit, which makes them unusual as most distilleries have now moved over to industrial condensers.

Oban distillery history

The Stevenson brothers—John and Hugh—originally opened a brewery on the site, producing an ale called Cowbell Ale in 1793. They soon turned their attention to distilling that ale into single malt whisky though, and in 1974 the distillery was founded. In 1794 there was no town to speak of in Oban, but the town quickly grew around the distillery thanks to the Steveson Brothers’ entrepreneurialism. Early in their careers, they didn't limit themselves to brewing and distillation, they also had an interest in the fishing industry, slate cutting industry, and even Llama farming (which they introduced to the area). Alas, the distillery and the Stevenson Brothers ran into difficulties in the 1830s and went into receivership. The next generation of Stevensons was ready to pick up the gauntlet, however, and bought the distillery from their father’s creditors for £1,500. The Stevenson family ran a tight ship from that point. They lived in the house directly connecting to the distillery and even had a “peephole” installed in their living room to monitor what was going on next door from the comfort of their armchairs. The distillery was purchased by Walter Scott & Sons Ltd in 1883, and it remained in their ownership until it was bought by Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1916. DCL was later merged with United Distillers & Vintners (UDV) in 1987. Oban is now owned by Diageo. There has been little renovation conducted on the distillery over the years. The distillery went silent for a few years and was re-opened after a renovation in 1968, in which a cave was discovered containing human remains from the Mesolithic period. Perhaps they thought it best to leave well alone since then!

Oban whisky flavour

Oban whisky is generally held to have a somewhat briny flavour, partly due to its proximity to the sea (only 208 steps!). They are also generally considered on the floral side, with touches of apple. Of course, this varies based on the bottling. You can check out tasting notes for specific products by clicking on them below. Although some of their whisky is sold to other distilleries to be incorporated into blends, Oban themselves only produce single malt Scotch whisky, so don’t expect any zany blends. Oban sometimes experiments with exotic cask finishes, such as the Distillers Edition, which is double matured in Andalusian Montilla Fino sherry casks.

Noteworthy Oban Whiskies

There have been many great whiskies from Oban over the years, but some worth mentioning include:
  • Oban 14 year old. This is the core of the range, and one of our best sellers.
  • Oban Little Bay. A newer edition at a more accessible price point than the 14 year old, which is very delicious nonetheless.
  • Oban Reserve Game of Thrones Nights Watch. Now sadly unavailable, a hugely successful collaboration with the highly popular HBO series.
  • Oban Special Releases. Keep an eye out for the annual drop of special releases from Diageo. There’s always a cracking Oban in the lineup.
  • Oban Lifeboat Whisky. In the 1990s Oban released a special whisky to raise funds for the RNLI, again speaking to the close relationship Oban has with the sea and seafaring.

Oban whisky price

Whilst some independent bottling and special releases can demand several hundred—even edging north of a thousand pounds in very old and rare bottlings—the core range is reasonably priced at around £50-£70.

Oban distillery tours

Oban offers tours of the distillery, which is open 49 weeks per year, Monday to Friday (the distillery is closed for three weeks per year for what they call the “silent period”). Oban is a beautiful place to visit and, sitting right by the gulf stream, has some gorgeous weather and even tropical plantlife to check out. The tour offers a full walk-through of the distillery where you’ll meet some of the team, a trip to the visitors centre, and an Oban whisky tasting.

Oban Hotel

The Oban Whisky Vaults Hotel is very popular with those visiting the distillery. As the name suggests, it’s designed very much with the whisky tourist in mind.

Oban Whisky Shop

You can pick up a bottle in the visitors' centre there are many great whisky shops in the town if you want to pick up some bottles on your travels. Alternatively, of course, you can buy Oban whisky online right here!

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