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Ardbeg Distillery | The Untamed Spirit

Last Updated: February 21, 2024

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 production facilities were upgraded in 2021, with four brand new stills installed in a new still house, bringing their annual production potential up to 2.8 million litres per annum, in line with neighbour Lagavulin (2.6 million litres also with four stills), though still somewhat below Laphroaig (3.3 million litres with seven stills).

Black and white photograph of Ardbeg distillery

Ardbeg Whisky Distillery Islay - from the pier.

How to Pronounce Ardbeg

How to pronounce Ardbeg, courtesy of Brian Cox ...

Ardbeg Whisky

A 2018 release of a single cask Ardbeg 10 year old (cask 33.136 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.

A selection from Ardbeg's core range, from left to right: Ardbeg 10yo, Ardbeg An Oa, Ardbeg Uigeadail, and Ardbeg Corryvreckan.

A selection from Ardbeg's core range, from left to right: Ardbeg 10yo, Ardbeg An Oa, Ardbeg Uigeadail, and Ardbeg Corryvreckan.

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photograph of ardbeg 10 year old bottle and outer packaging box

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. 

Per Ralfy review 617 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... better than many whiskies three times its age."

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photograph of Ardbeg an Oa whisky bottle and outer packaging box, available on the whisky exchange

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.

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Photograph of Ardbeg Corryvreckan

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!

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Photograph of Ardbeg Distillery Uigeadail Whisky

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.

Where is Ardbeg Distillery?

Ardbeg Distillery is 3.7 miles/5.9 km from Port Ellen, the third in the trio distilleries (Lagavulin and Laphroaig being the other two) on Islay's south-east coastline.

black and gold map of islay distilleries above a king size bed with black sheets and white and gold pillows

Posters and Fine Art Prints of Islay Whisky Maps | Made By Whisky Lovers For Whisky Lovers

Ardbeg Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings

Ardbeg Distillery is open 7 days until 31st August from 9.30am to 5pm. Make sure you book well in advance as tour group numbers are limited and it is a very popular distillery. To make a booking, send an email to distillery@ardbeg.com.  If you are trying to arrange a tour wit less than 48 hours notice, then you will need to telephone them on +44 (0) 1496 302244 during opening hours. The Old Kiln Cafe is currently not open, though there is the Ardstream Trailer for coffees/snacks.

Classic Production Tour

Guided tour of Ardbeg distillery followed by a tasting of three (3) drams from the Ardbeg core range. £20 per person and approdximately 75 minutes duration. Monday to Friday: 10.30 am, 12:00 noon and 3:00 pm. Saturday: 10.30 am and 3:00 pm. Please note, tour times may vary from 1st September (new timetable isn't available yet).

Cask Samples in Warehouse 3

Available Monday to Friday at 11:00 am, £50 per person, approximately 75 minutes duration. Persons must be aged over 18 years to attend this experience. A guided tasting (no tour) of Ardbeg whiskies straight from the cask, sampled inside Warehouse 3. Please note, the tour time may vary from 1st September (new timetable isn't available yet).

Other experiences are available - for more information see https://www.ardbeg.com/en-gb/visitus/tours.html.

Ardbeg Distillery Images

In 2021 Ardbeg completed their new still house, containing four brand new stills. To ensure consistency of production, the new stills are exact replicas of the old, but double the number they had previously. The wash still takes a charge of 11,750 litres - exactly half of a washback - though the capacity is 18,720 litres. The wash stills are run at twice the pace (hotter, faster) of the spirit stills, so they're charged with slightly less wort - the low wines produced by each wash still is roughly 7,400 litres. The spirit stills have a capacity of 16,957 litres and are charged with 13,500 litres of low wines and foreshots and feints from last spirit run run. Annual production for Ardbeg should soon be around 2.5 million litres per annum (up from 1.2 to 1.5 million litres with the original two stills).

Click on the images below to open in full screen.

Accommodation

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.

Ardbeg Logo on tarmac, Ardbeg distillery Islay

If you're an Ardbeg fan, this 3-bedroom self-contained cottage would have to be the ultimate place to stay. Seaview Cottage is the former home of the Ardbeg Distillery Manager and is located right on the distillery grounds. The cottage has been newly renovated while retaining many of the original features and boasts a stylish interior with an eclectic mix of Ardbeg and Islay inspired furnishings. Bookings are managed by Ardbeg distillery.

Right on the shoreline, No. 1 Charlotte St is centrally located in Port Ellen for dining out, picking up a few things at the Co-op, catching the ferry, or walking to all three of the Port Ellen distilleries (Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig). Rooms have private bathrooms.

The Machrie Hotel is an 18th century converted farmhouse that sits in the middle of a golf course, alongside 7 miles of pristine beach. The Machrie is a short drive from Port Ellen and has 47 stylish rooms to choose from, many with stunning views across the fairway towards the ocean.

What Else Is Nearby

References & Further Reading

picture of the front cover of book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard

One of Amanda's favourite books. Around 1885, Alfred Barnard was secretary of Harper's Weekly Gazette, a journal dedicated to the wine and spirit trade. In order to provide his readers with the history and descriptions of the whisky-making process, Barnard decided to visit all distilleries in Scotland, England and Ireland. Accompanied by friends, he visited and sketched over 150 distilleries. This is a wonderful step back in time and a must have book for a whisky history geek. 

malt whisky yearbook 2024 sq

Ingvar Ronde's annual guide to all things Scotch whisky, The Malt Whisky Yearbook is your go-to guide for distillery facts and stats. With comprehensive and up-to-date distillery summaries, editorials on the state of world whisky, profiles on global whisky trail blazers (the people having the most impact on the industry), the Malt Whisky Yearbook packs in a lot of facts and figures and is an essential Almanac for whisky fans.

Front cover image of the book Whiskies Galore : A Tour of Scotland's Island Distilleries by Ian Buxton

Whiskies Galore is not your average whisky book. It is not simply a catalogue of distilleries, but a story of discovery and adventure. Join Ian Buxton on a personal journey across Scotland's islands, combining his expert knowledge of whisky with his fondness for anecdote, as he provides a special treat for all who love Scotland's islands and their drams.

Book cover of Whisky Island by Andrew Jefford

In Whisky Island, by Andrew Jefford, Islay's fascinating story is uncovered: from its history and stories of the many shipwrecks which litter its shores, to the beautiful wildlife, landscape and topography of the island revealed through intimate descriptions of the austerely beautiful and remote countryside. Interleaved through these different narrative strands comes the story of the whiskies themselves, traced from a distant past of bothies and illegal stills to present-day legality and prosperity. The flavour of each spirit is analysed and the differences between them teased out, as are the stories of the notable men and women who have played such a integral part in their creation.

About the author

Amanda

Amanda is an Australian-born photographer, digital nomad and whisky lover. Her passion for travel and whisky lead her to Islay, where she fell in love with an Ileach (an Islay native). Amanda and Roddy now share their Spirited Adventures.

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