Ardbeg Distillery is a small but mighty institution on the south-east coastline of the Isle of Islay, Scotland. Silent for most of the 1980s and 1990s, Ardbeg has risen phoenix-like from the ashes after undergoing considerable restoration in 1997 (thanks to parent Glenmorangie Company, a subsidiary of LVMH), to become one of the most popular heavily-peated single malt whisky distilleries in the world.
Ardbeg's twin stills are capable of producing 10,000 casks per annum (1.4 million litres), comparably less than neighbours Lagavulin (2.6 million litres with four stills) and Laphroaig (3.3 million litres with seven stills). Expansion plans were announced in 2018 to add another pair of stills at Ardbeg Distillery (which will bring the total number to four) as well as building additional warehouses.
How to Pronounce Ardbeg
How to pronounce Ardbeg, courtesy of Brian Cox ...
A 2018 realease of a single cask Ardbeg 10 year old (by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society) is descriptively labelled as follows: "the glass brimmed with mineralic bluster, tarry rope, kelp, simmering peat oils, cured meats and pine resin at first. Then burnt toast, a few tinned fruits and a thick sludge of natural tar liqueur... A slug of water reveals screeching tyres through a farmyard, green olives in brine, smoked German rauchbier, a dollop of dung, paraffin, BBQ sauce and pure, raw peats. On the palate, a mini-tsunami of tar arrives, quickly followed by farmyard and coastal muscle. Earth, hessian, dunnage warehouse, soot, wax and honey all play a part. Reduction gives iodine, peat oils, crushed sea salt, wool, wet rocks, roasted parsnips, more tar, kelp and a final mineral flourish with a lingering herbal fade."
I think this is an apt description of most bottles of Ardbeg! Tarry, medicinal, mineral, and most certainly of the sea (with a bit of barnyard for good measure).
My personal favourite is a festival bottling from 2014, Ardbeg Auriverdes. Ardbeg Auriverdes is a lot softer on the palate than most of the other Ardbeg whiskies I've tried (doesn't smack you in the head quite so much with medicinal seaweed). However, it is still distinctly an Ardbeg release.
Ardbeg 10 Years Old
The bulk of Ardbeg spirit goes into producing Ardbeg 10 Year Old. According to the Whisky Exchange, "for peat lovers, Ardbeg 10 Year Old is probably the highest-quality 'entry-level' single malt on the market" .
Per Ralfy review 617 (below) the nose is "vegetal peat, crisp, dry, under-ripe apples, under-ripe pears, minty, dental mouth wash, complex .. seashells, wet, pebbles, marine notes".
The initial taste is a "big bang big hit, not as volcanic as Laphroaig, but certainly as intense. It has more of a rich gingery dry spice to it, sultanas, vanilla ... tiny bit of fudginess in the background . .. vegetal peat, under-ripe apples, a little bit of sweet, quite a bit of sour".
After water: "intense sour, dramatic vegetal peaty, mint, spearmint, a little bit of aniseed, caraway, cumin.. savoury dry character malt .. green tea and vanilla ... better than many whiskies three times its age."
Where is Ardbeg Distillery?
Ardbeg Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings
For bookings Tel: 01496 302244 or complete the contact form. Bookings are highly advisable (at least 2 days in advance) to avoid disappointment - most tours will book out quickly in the summer months. The Table Tasting does not require a booking.
For current schedules (which vary from Summer to Winter) see https://www.ardbeg.com/en-gb/visit-us/tours
The 2019 Summer Schedule (April to October) is as follows:
Table Tastings in the Old Kiln Cafe: 10 am to 12 pm OR 2 pm to 4 pm, Monday to Sunday. Informal tastings are available in the Old Kiln Café. Pick from one of the daily tasting flights and the staff will briefly talk you through the whiskies then leave you to enjoy them at your leisure. There is no booking required. Cafe menu is available for light snacks or lunch.
Back to the 90’s Tasting: 5.30pm on Wednesdays, April to August, £65 per person / lasts around 1 hour 30 minutes.
Learn how Ardbeg was able to produce the beautiful spirit that is now their 21, 22 and 23-year-old expressions. A tasting of all three, along with stories related to the time, gives a perfect chance to pick your favourite year.
Tour & Tasting
Ardbeg Distillery Tour & Wee Tasting: 11 am OR 3 pm, Monday to Sunday, £8 per person, duration approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. Informative and fun tour of Ardbeg Distillery with a dram of your choice from the core range at the end.
Ardbeg Full-Range Tour & Tasting: 10 am OR 12.30pm, Monday to Sunday, £25 per person, duration approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. A detailed tour of the Distillery followed by a tasting of five different drams in the Ardbeg Chairman’s Study. Tasting includes the core range of Ardbeg Ten Year Old, Ardbeg An Oa, Ardbeg Uigeadail and Ardbeg Corryvreckan, plus one Limited Expression chosen by your guide.
Sneak Peak at Four: 4 pm Monday to Sunday, £5 per person, duration approximately 45 minutes. At the end of the day join a quick, enlightening whizz around Ardbeg Distillery. See what makes Ardbeg different and enjoy a dram of the iconic Ardbeg Ten Year Old.
The Big Ardbeg Tour and Warehouse Tasting at Two (in Warehouse Three): 2 pm Monday to Friday, £50 per person, duration approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. Complete tour with tales, timings, temperatures, traditions, tuns and a tantalising tasting in Warehouse 3. Sample some very unusual Ardbeg expressions, as well as some old favourites.
The Ardbeg Wednesday Bog Off Walk: 11 am Wednesdays, April – August, £65 per person, duration approximately 4 hours.
Take a hike over the hills, drink in the landscape, sample the exquisite Ardbeg drams chosen by your guide, enjoy a picnic lunch and finish with a short tour of the distillery. Note: you will need sturdy footwear and weather appropriate clothing for this tour. Ardbeg may have to cancel the walk entirely, at short notice, if the weather is too horrid. [This would be my choice - Islay is stunning in good weather. The only caveat being, it can be absolutely awful when it's cold and wet, which it often is in summer!].
Ardbeg Single Cask Dinners: 7 pm on the 10th of each month, May to October, £130 per person, duration approximately 4 hours. Every month Ardbeg launches an exclusive single cask. Join them after hours for a backstage walk around the distillery, a rare tasting and an intimate dinner in the Old Kiln Café with some of the folk who make the whisky. Bring back a bottle that you want to open at the distillery and share it – then taste one of this year’s single casks and buy a bottle if you wish.
Ardbeg Distillery Images
What Else Is Nearby
References & Further Reading
- Alfred Barnard, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, 2008 Edition, first published in 1887 by Harpers Weekly Gazette
- Ian Buxton, Whiskies Galore : A Tour of Scotland's Island Distilleries, 2018 Edition
- Neil Wilson, The Island Whisky Trail : An Illustrated Guide to the Hebridean Whisky Distilleries, 2003 Edition