Located on the South-East coast of the Isle of Islay (South-West Scotland), the Ardbeg distillery (“small headland” in Gaelic) was officially established in 1815, when whisky became legal in Scotland. But the location had been known for decades to hide “smugglers”, clandestine distillers who crafted the best malts. The clandestine still of Ardbeg was set up in 1794.
A special kind of chemistry
Located a few miles away from the beautiful Celtic Kildalton Cross, Ardbeg is one of the last remaining “Kildalton distilleries”. Just like Laphroaig and Lagavulin, it is constantly battered by the winter storms that hit the south coast of the island.
A rare fact in Scotland, Ardbeg has always owned a malt-house with a specific feature: the malt drying towers weren’t equipped with ventilators. Hence, the peat smoke was even more concentrated during barley roasting. The malting areas have been operating until 1977. If the malt-house is no more in use today, the Ardbeg distillers impose the same standards to their malt suppliers. The water used by the distillery is extremely pure and also peated, as it comes from the Loch Uigeadail owned by the distillery. As the cellars sit by the sea, close by the quayside, they are laden with the iodized sea breeze.
The incredibly peated and smoky character of Ardbeg Single Malt originates also from the malts used in the whisky making, offering great concentration of phenolic substances. Above all, the malt has been enhanced by the distillery’s specific device, as the stills are equipped with a “rectifier” located at the top of the column. This device rejects only the heaviest elements that return in the vat, and keeps only the lightest vapours, with the most refined and powerful flavours. This is why all of Arbdeg Single Malts are characterized with this elegant peated body which is nowhere to be found but here, in Ardbeg. Ardbeg has been, for a long time, the most peated Islay malt.
Ardbeg rises again
At the end of the 1970’s, the Ardbeg distillery, property of the MacDougall family since its foundation, experienced a tumultuous episode with several periods of closure as the owners changed. This explains why Ardbeg Single Malts became scarce on the market. But when Glenmorangie purchased the distillery in 1997, Ardbeg rose again.
Stocks preserved on site were rediscovered, the iconic 10 year-old Ardbeg Single Malt with its black label, distilled when the production started in 1989, is launched, and the production increases tremendously as of 1997, marked by the release of many new exceptional malts.
Ardbeg became recognized as a rare and unique distillery within a few years, thanks to the knowledge of Bill Lumsden, Master Distiller and creator, which rebuilt Ardbeg and made it an iconic brand famous in the whisky world. Innovations, experiments and limited series fostered renewed enthusiasm amongst collectors and fans, as shown by the tremendous echo surrounding each limited edition releases on Ardbeg Day, celebrated worldwide on the last Fèis Ile Saturday. After Ardbeg Day 2012, Ardbog 2013, Auriverdes 2014, Perpetuum 2015 that marked the 200 years anniversary of the distillery, fans are delighted with the arrival of Ardbeg Dark Cove, celebrating the smuggling past of the distillery, heritage of the history of how Ardbeg truly began…