Ardbeg Distillery is a small but mighty institution on the south-east coastline 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 release 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 ... A slug of water reveals screeching tyres through a farmyard, green olives in brine ... and pure, raw peats. On the palate, a mini-tsunami of tar arrives, quickly followed by farmyard and coastal muscle."
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" . Peated to 55 ppm (parts per million), and matured in ex-bourbon barrels, Ardbeg 10 is a non-chill filtered, natural coloured peat bomb.
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."
Ardbeg An Oa
The most recent addition to the Ardbeg Core Range, Ardbeg An Oa (pronounced "O") is smokier and sweeter than Ardbeg 10, and overall, more rounded. While An Oa is still very much an Ardbeg expression (smokey, medicinal whisky), it isn't as raw as you'll find the 10 year old. An Oa is a blend of 20-25% Ardbeg fully matured in Pedro Ximenez, which brings a lot of fig and date influence, combined with Ardbeg matured in new char/virgin oak casks, providing a kick of vanilla and taking the smoke up another level. These are balanced out with Ardbeg matured in ex-bourbon cask (as you'll find with Ardbeg 10) which brings it all together.
Named after the Mull of Oa in the south west of Islay, Ardbeg An Oa is matured using a combination of casks including Pedro Ximénez, charred virgin oak and ex-bourbon barrels. A more rounded expression than Ardbeg 10.
Corryvreckan is the smokiest and most challenging whisky in the Ardbeg Core Range; it has a swirling undercurrent and rightly takes its name after a whirlpool off the coast of Islay. This whisky can be polarising, but does appeal to a lot of drinkers who don't usually like Ardbeg! The original idea was to use only french oak for maturation, which adds a lot of tannin and herbal notes, but risks drying the whisky out. Instead, the final Ardbeg Corryvreckan blend is roughly 30% fully matured in french oak, with the remainder in ex-bourbon casks. Bottled at 57.1% alcohol, Corryvreckan is an intense smoke-filled dram!
Winner of the World's Best Single Malt Whisky at the World Whisky Awards 2010 - Ardbeg Corryvreckan is "powerfully peaty and immensely satisfying". Medicinal whisky at its finest.
Bottled at 54.2%, Ardbeg Uigeadail packs a punch. Balancing bourbon and sherry influences Uigeadail is a whisky that is favourite among diehard Ardbeg fans. Lots of smoke, lots of sherry, it has a smoked bacon influence, with a sweet after taste.
Cask strength Ardbeg matured in bourbon barrels and sherry butts. Uigeadail takes Ardbeg's signature smokey-medicinal spirit and packs it in a sherry bomb. This is the most popular whisky with hardcore Ardbeg fans. Uigeadail is the name of the loch from which Ardbeg Distillery sources all their water.
Where is Ardbeg Distillery?
Ardbeg Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings
As with most of Scotland's distilleries, Ardbeg closed its doors to tours for most of 2020 due to COVID19. From 2nd September 2020 Ardbeg will be open from Wednesdays to Sundays for pre-booked tastings. The Old Kiln Café will remain closed and tours of the distillery are unavailable until further notice. Keep up to date via Ardbeg Distillery's website https://www.ardbeg.com/en-int/visit-us/tours. The Visitor Centre is fully accessible for those with limited mobility, however, please contact the distillery if you wish to check specific details for your visit.
While there are currently no tours, the following tastings are available Wednesdays to Sundays, and take around 45 minutes each. Places are very limited and bookings must be made at least 24 hours in advance. Please note, tastings listed below were correct at the time of publication. Please see https://www.ardbeg.com/en-int/visit-us/tours to confirm tasting details.
10.30am Morning Core Range Tasting
Cost: £25 - tasting of Ardbeg Ten Years Old, An Oa, Uigeadail, Corryvreckan and Ardbeg's latest addition, the 5 year old Wee Beastie. Also available in the afternoon.
12 noon The Committee Bottling Tasting
Cost: £50 - Five drams chosen from Ardbeg's library of Committee Bottlings – selected by your tasting host.
1.30pm The Old, Mature and Unusual Tasting
Cost: £75 - A dram each of Ardbeg 22 Years Old, 23 Years Old, Traigh Bhan 19 Years Old, plus a dram from one of Ardbeg's Single Cask bottlings, and a very special, unreleased cask drawn sample, only to be tasted at Ardbeg Distillery!
3pm Afternoon Core Range Tasting
Cost: £25 - tasting of Ardbeg Ten Years Old, An Oa, Uigeadail, Corryvreckan and Ardbeg's latest addition, the 5 year old Wee Beastie.
To book your tasting send an email to email@example.com and advise them of the date and time that works for you, along with how many people you’d like to book for. When they confirm your booking, they’ll send you a secure link to pay in advance, along with details of all the safety guidance you'll be required to follow.
Ardbeg Distillery Images
What Else Is Nearby
There are a small number of hotel options near Ardbeg, specifically in Port Ellen, one of the main towns on Islay, though you'll find the broadest accommodation selection via Airbnb. Port Ellen is easy to get around on foot, and there are several restaurants and cafes. There is also a supermarket and a post office, which makes it a convenient location for families or those reliant on public transport. Ardbeg Distillery is 3.7 miles/5.9 km from Port Ellen, and there is a wide asphalted footpath, should you wish to walk or cycle to the distillery.