The Story of Oban Gin – Part 5: My thoughts and where things go now

Part 4 of the blog, where I speak about my meeting with Mr Robertson, brings us right up to the current day.  Everything up until this point has been the factual story of Oban Gin, which anyone could have brought together in one place with a bit of hard work and some digging around.

But I feel it’s time I draw some conclusions from the information I’ve shared with you this week. The same rules apply – no rumour and everything will be based on the facts. But the fact this whole situation has got to this point has made me angry and it’s time to round up why.

(Apologies in advance for the length but my fingers kept flying across the keyboard – and there’s plenty more I could have written)

A Lack of Respect
What has struck me in my years of watching this story unfold is the complete lack of respect Mr Robertson has shown to both sets of his investors.

Unlike the Oban Gin investors, who are relatively new to all this, the investors in the Forth Bridge Brewery appear to be merely a ripple in Mr Robertson’s wake. Those I’ve spoken to this week never expect to see their money again. True, some have had refunds, but it has been an uphill battle, with most refunds only secured upon threat of legal action.

Although the sums they have invested may seem small to some, it’s the principal of the matter. These people took a punt, and although initiatives like this can often fail, the manner in which these people have been strung along FOR THREE YEARS is nothing short of disgraceful.

Oban Gin investors are in a slightly different position – their investment is new, there’s a gradual drip-feed of information about the project, and there is the hope that they are the lucky ones and this won’t be a repeat of the Forth Bridge Brewery project. However, the patterns seen with the brewery are starting to repeat themselves. Bottles of gin bought in July and promised in September STILL haven’t materialised. And when refunds are requested, it’s a struggle to get them.

The town of Oban
In my opinion, Mr Robertson owes the people of Oban an apology. If we were sitting here discussing “West of Scotland Gin”, for example, I doubt the furore would be as strong. However, the fact that Mr Robertson has harnessed the town’s good name and its most famous landmark – McCaig’s Tower – in his endeavour, has gone part of the way to riling people up.

When you are from a small town such as Oban, people take pride in things like this. They are happy to support those who are careful custodians of such properties, including the town’s whisky distillery. But when the town’s name becomes a byword for controversy, then it’s understandable that support will start to ebb away.

The fact the gin will no longer be made in the town only serves to make this all the worse, with the town’s well-established tourism industry unlikely to benefit from the Oban Gin project.

The wrong approach
Having watched Mr Robertson’s activities from the side-lines for a number of years, I’ve positively winced at his approach. The template for this was clear with the Forth Bridge Brewery, which ballooned from a small(ish) £250,000 project, to a sprawling £3m initiative. The same seems to be happening with Oban Gin.

The vast majority of start-up spirit brands will have someone else make a gin to recipe to start with. This allows a new entrant to the market to build up their brand and a loyal market following, before they strike out on their own and buy equipment, premises, etc. It’s a tough way to go but many of the best-established gin producers today started this way.

Instead, Mr Robertson seems to want to go from zero to Bombay Sapphire in the blink of an eye. Doing things this way is literally like burning money, which is fine if it’s your own, or you have a backer with deep pockets who doesn’t care what the outcome is. But he appears to be gambling thousands of pounds of other people’s money on a venture with very shaky foundations, and ignoring his responsibility to them to do things the right way.

But could it all turn out alright?
Well, possibly. But possibly not. I don’t have a crystal ball, so can’t predict the future. However, I’m a realist, and the weight of evidence pointing towards “no” far outweighs anything I’ve seen to the contrary.

I sincerely hope I’m proved wrong and this has all just been one, long, three-year bump in the road. I’ll eat my humble pie and wash it down with some Oban Gin. After which I’ll give you my thoughts on it, naturally.

Every brand has an origin, so successful or not, this information will remain online and will hopefully be a warning to others.

And where now?
If I’m honest, I don’t have a clue. I’ve had some limited dialogue with Mr Robertson this week and he’s apparently got his own blog planned, which will probably either be an attempt to discredit me or another “big announcement” to distract from the issues of the past week.

Either way, I hope you’ll agree that everything I’ve written has been based on – or can be backed up with – facts and evidence. And it’s important that pressure is maintained, whether it’s by me, the investors or someone else entirely. Something isn’t right here and hasn’t been right for a very long time. My reach and influence only extend so far, but it needed someone to get the ball rolling and present the evidence.

I feel this isn’t the last that you’ll read about Oban Gin, as the story still has to come to a head, one way or the other. But, like all good stories, the fallout is quite often more interesting than the story itself.

Thanks for your time over the past week. And I’m sure we’ll speak soon.

A couple of thanks before I finish. Thanks to those who pushed me to write this and listened to me ranting about it for months on end. Thanks to a good friend for providing the photography of my beautiful home town. Thanks to my crew of fact-checkers, proof-readers and sounding-boards. And thanks to all those who sent kind messages of support during this entire endeavour.