Ardbeg is a distillery on the isle of Islay in Scotland. It is located on the island’s south coast, along the same stretch of road as Lagavulin and Laphroaig. The distillery produces a heavily peated single malt Scotch whisky. Ardbeg has something of a cult following. The Ardbeg Committee fan club has grown to include 120,000 members around the world. Each year the distillery releases special bottlings and the annual Ardbeg Day, held during the Islay Whisky Festival, has become a global event with fans coming together all over the world to share their love for their favourite Islay single malt.
Ardbeg produces a heavily peated single malt in the traditional Islay style. Barley is dried over a peat fire, giving it a smoky flavour that remains throughout distillation.
The spirit is full-bodied and oily with a salty, smoky character.
Ageing in ex-bourbon whiskey casks gives notes of citrus and vanilla. A sherry cask, meanwhile, lends the whisky spice and dried fruit notes.
Ardbeg is distilled from barley peated to 50 phenol parts per million. This is sourced from the Port Ellen maltings, a few miles from the distillery.
Long fermentation helps to encourage fruity esters in the wash.
Distillation takes place in copper pot stills. The spirit stills are equipped with a purifier pipe that transfers vapours from the lyne arm back to the pot to be distilled again. The end result is a robust, yet refined spirit.
Maturation takes place predominantly in ex-bourbon casks. However, sherry casks and French oak casks are used for the Uigeadail and Corryvreckan expressions. The release of Ardbeg Grooves in 2018 marked the distillery's first use of wine casks.
Ardbeg was licensed in 1815 by John McDougall. When he passed away, the distillery was taken over by his son, Alexander.
Alexander struggled to keep the business going and by the 1850s his health was failing. The duty of running the distillery fell on his sisters Flora and Margaret. They relied heavily on a local man, Colin Hay and when the distillery's debtors stepped in, they appointed Hay manager and tasked him with reviving the business.
Hay installed larger stills to increase capacity and built new warehouses. By 1886 he was producing 300,000 gallons per year, most of which went to blended Scotch whiskies. When Hay retired in 1897, Ardbeg was the most successful distillery on Islay.
Following Hay’s departure, Ardbeg was taken over by the Lawson family. They ran the distillery until 1959 when D.C.L. and Hiram Walker acquired significant shares. After an increase in production, the distillery was no longer able to meet its own malting needs. The malting floor and kiln were closed and barley sourced from Port Ellen instead.
Hiram Walker took full control in 1979 but it was a difficult time for the Scotch industry and Ardbeg was mothballed within two years. Intermittent production resumed in 1989 but by the mid-'90s all had fallen silent.
The future looked bleak until Glenmorangie plc bought the distillery. The deal was said to be worth £7million and included all remaining stocks of whisky. The new owners invested heavily, with £1.7million spent on a new visitor centre and cafe. So, much has changed since luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy took over.
2008 saw the release of the first Ardbeg 10-year-old. It was later joined in the core range by Uigeadail and Corryvreckan. The brand has since diversified further with the An Oa and 5-year-old Wee Beastie bottlings.
In 2018, it was announced that Ardbeg would build a new stillhouse. The project was completed in early 2021, doubling the distillery's production capacity and ensuring that demand for the spirit would be met for years to come.