In 1780, Hugh and John Stevenson purchased Belnahua, a slate island in the Firth of Lorn on Scotland’s western coast. Using stone quarried from the island, they built a brewery in Oban Bay in 1793 which was converted into a distillery within the year. Over the months that followed, the port town of Oban grew up around the site, gradually enclosing it on all sides and preventing any form of expansion. To this day, the distillery remains small for one so old.
Whilst under the ownership of one J. Walter Higgin in the year 1890, the distillery suffered extensive damage from a fire which tore through the still-house and adjoining offices. Only thanks to the prompt arrival of the local Fire Brigade was the blaze prevented from reaching the warehouses and consuming any maturing spirit in a devastating inferno.
The distillery was rebuilt, complete with identical copies of the original stills, and was soon benefiting from the arrival of the railway which provided vastly improved transport links to Glasgow and the south.
The 1960’s saw the distilleries future come under threat once again… With expansion common thanks to the burdgeoning single malt category, Oban found itself lagging behind it’s competitors, unable to increase production or expand in any way. Distillation was brought to a halt in 1968 but thankfully, the decision was reversed in 1972, and spirit has continued to flow from the Oban stills ever since.
With the intention of capitalizing on the newfound popularity of single malts, a 12 year old bottling was released in 1979 before being replaced, a decade later, by a 14 year old which would form part of Diageo’s new ‘Classic Malts’ range. Today, this tiny distillery on Scotland’s western coast welcomes an astonishing 35,000 visitors per year.
The Oban Distillers Edition is bottled at 43% alcohol by volume and retails at around £80 a bottle. Unusually, it is finished in Montilla Fino Casks…
Smell: Light Sherry influence, Berries, Caramel, Walnut, Heather Honey, Vanilla, Sea Salt and perhaps the lightest hint of Smoke.
Taste: Dried Fruits, Salted Caramel, Toffee, Cinnamon, Spicy Pepper, Oak and a touch of Smoke.
Value for Money: It’s certainly not cheap and I must admit I would prefer to see a higher bottling strength at such a price but it is a thoroughly enjoyable dram none-the-less.
A little pricey yes, but there’s a depth of character unusual for a 14 year old whisky and the Fino finish undoubtedly adds an extra layer. There’s a nice fruitiness, which combines well with the warming cinnamon and light smoke to create an intriguing, yet highly drinkable malt.