Ardbeg distillery

Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Heavy peating at Port Ellen maltings gives the smoke, long fermentation helps to increase softness and a clean, acidic fruitiness, while it is the use of a purifier pipe in the lyne arm of the spirit still which adds an oily, textural quality to the final product but also helps to refine the spirit. A new, modern and very Glenmorangie wood policy has also helped to give more roundness to the final mature product.

  • Region
    Islay
  • Production type
    Single malt
  • Distillery Status
    Working

Ardbeg History

By the end of the 19th century, Ardbeg had become a valued fixture on Islay’s southern coast. Founded in 1815 by the McDougall family, the site had grown into a small community with housing, a hall, greenhouses, a bowling green and a school for 100 pupils. The reason for its success was tied to the growing popularity of blends and the need for most to have some smoke running through them. 

When the combination of war and iconic depression hit the blended market in the 1920s however it – like most distilleries – was finding the going tough. It wasn’t to be the last time. The Hay family, which had taken the licence in 1853, steered it back to profitability before the distillery was bought by DCL and Canada’s Hiram Walker in 1959.

A rise in demand for peated whisky saw production increase in the 1960s and 70s, with demand necessitating that the distillery bring in peated malt from Port Ellen from 1974. For aficionados the end of Ardbeg’s self-sufficiency was the end of an era – and a style. Seven years later, Ardbeg’s kiln was finally extinguished.

The Canadian distiller took full control in 1979 buying out DCL’s 50% share for £300,000. By that time, blends were once again on the slide and to compensate for the drop in demand for smoky malt an unpeated make [Kildalton] began to be produced.

In 1981 the distillery was mothballed but restarted again in 1989, albeit on an intermittent basis, by which time it had joined Laphroaig in the Allied Distillers stable.

In 1996, it was silent once more, but saved a year later by Glenmorangie which paid £7m for the distillery and stock – or what there was of it. By this time, Ardbeg had built its reputation as one of the cult single malts. Glenmorangie’s task therefore was both to manage expectations, eke out the remaining stock, and start recreating the brand. In an inspired move they also invested in a visitor’s centre and cafe (for years pretty much the only place to eat in the south of Islay).

The stock profile meant that its first age statement release was a 17-year-old, while it would take until 2000 for its own Ardbeg 10-year-old to appear. From 2004 however there had been incremental releases, ’Very Young’, ‘Still Young’ and ‘Almost There’ showing the work in progress.

The portfolio still concentrates on no-age-statement releases, some exclusively from (now very rare) old stock, others from new, some from a mix. Different oaks have also been used as part of a general improvement in the quality of casks used.

Despite demand continuing to rise, Ardbeg will remain small and will remain a cult – albeit one with a global community, ‘The Committee’ numbering in excess of 120,000 people.

Timeline

  • 1815 Ardbeg is founded by John McDougall
  • 1838 The distillery is sold to Glasgow merchant Thomas Buchanan for £1,000, although McDougall’s son, Alexander, continues managing the operation
  • 1853 Alexander McDougall dies, leaving the distillery to be run by his sisters, Margaret and Flora
  • 1911 The Ardbeg name and its iconic letter ‘A’ is registered as a trademark
  • 1959 Minority shares in the distillery are bought by DCL and Hiram Walker
  • 1974 Ardbeg begins using peated malt from nearby Port Ellen
  • 1979 Hiram Walker buys a 100% stake in the distillery
  • 1981 Ardbeg is mothballed for the first time
  • 1989 Now part of Allied Distillers, Ardbeg is reopened
  • 1997 Having closed once again the previous year, Ardbeg is bought by Glenmorangie
  • 1998 Ardbeg opens its visitors’ centre to the public
  • 2000 Ardbeg 10 Year Old is launched; the Ardbeg Committee is founded to promote the brand worldwide
  • 2004 Both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg are acquired by French fashion label and drinks group Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy

Ardbeg Facts

  • Capacity (mlpa) i
    1.1
  • Condenser Type i
    Shell and tube
  • Fermentation Time i
    54hrs
  • Filling Strength i
    63.5%
  • Grist Weight (t) i
    4.5
  • Heat Source i
    Steam kettles and coils
  • Malt Specification i
    50-65ppm
  • Malt Supplier i
    Various, but mainly Islay concordat (Port Ellen)
  • Mash Tun Type i
    Semi Lauter
  • New-make Phenol Level i
    25ppm
  • New-make Strength i
    69%
  • Single Malt Percentage i
    100
  • Spirit Still Charge (l) i
    13,000
  • Spirit Still Shape i
    Onion, condenser on Lyne Arm
  • Spirit Still Size (l) i
    16,900
  • Stills i
    2: 1 wash, 1 spirit
  • Warehousing i
    Primarily at distillery, Dunnage and Racked
  • Wash Still Charge (l) i
    11,750
  • Wash Still Shape i
    Onion
  • Wash Still Size (l) i
    18,000
  • Washback Size (l) i
    23,500
  • Washback Type i
    Wood
  • Washbacks i
    6
  • Water Source i
    Loch Uigeadail
  • Wort Clarity i
    Medium
  • Yeast Type i
    Pressed Distilling

Owners

Parent company

Current owner

Previous owners

Contact

Address
Ardbeg Distillery
Port Ellen
Isle of Islay
Argyll
PA42 7EA
United Kingdom
Website
Visit Website
Phone
+44 1496 302244
Email
Send Email
Visitor Opening Hours
Monday
9.30am to 5pm
Tuesday
9.30am to 5pm
Wednesday
9.30am to 5pm
Thursday
9.30am to 5pm
Friday
9.30am to 5pm
Saturday
9.30am to 5pm (Apr-Oct)
Sunday
9.30am to 5pm (May-Sept)

Map

See also

  • Glenmorangie Glenmorangie Glenmorangie Distillery & brand

    Glenmorangie

    French-owned site by the Dornoch Firth.

  • Bunnahabhain Bunnahabhain Bunnahabhain Distillery & brand

    Bunnahabhain

    A substantial Victorian distillery.

  • Kilchoman Kilchoman Kilchoman Distillery & brand

    Kilchoman

    Young Islay farm distillery.

  • Bowmore Bowmore Bowmore Distillery & brand

    Bowmore

    A medium-peated Islay whisky.

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