Updated 12 August 2022

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Ardbeg Distillery | The Untamed Spirit

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.

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.

screen shot of Ardbeg Distillery's location on Google Maps

Islay Distillery Map

Ardbeg Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings

Ardbeg Distillery is open from Tuesday – Saturday from 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.

Tour and Tasting

Available Tuesday to Saturday at 10:00 am, £12 per person, approximately 45 minutes duration. Guided tour of the distillery with a tasting of one (1) whisky of your choice from the Ardbeg Core Range.

Tour and Core Range Tasting

Available Tuesday to Saturday at 12:30 pm, £25 per person, approximately 75 minutes duration. Guided tour of the distillery with a Core Range tasting of five (5) drams in the Chairman’s Study, which includes the  5yo Wee Beastie, Ardbeg Ten Years Old, Ardbeg An Oa, Ardbeg Uigeadail and Ardbeg Corryvreckan.

Ardbeg 360

Available Tuesday to Saturday at 2:00 PM, £90 per person, approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes duration.
Guided tour of the distillery finishing with a tutored tasting in Warehouse 3, where you'll have the chance to try some old favourites and some very unusual samples drawn straight from the barrels and butts.  Relaxed, informal and the most all-round Ardbeg experience.

Other tasting-only experiences are available - for more information see https://www.ardbeg.com/en-int/visit-us/tours

Ardbeg Distillery Images

Ardbeg Distillery Islay, Main Entrance with large Ardbeg 'A' logo painted on the ashphalt

Ardbeg, Islay, Main Entrance

Empty casks waiting to be filled, in the yard at Ardbeg Distillery. The majority of Ardbeg whisky matures in ex-Bourbon oak.

Empty casks waiting to be filled, in the yard at Ardbeg Distillery. The majority of Ardbeg whisky matures in ex-Bourbon oak.

The Robert Boby Ltd Malt Mill at Ardbeg Distillery - installed in 1921 and currently serviced by Ronnie Lee.

The Robert Boby Ltd Malt Mill at Ardbeg Distillery - installed in 1921 and currently serviced by Ronnie Lee.

Rear View of The Robert Boby Ltd Malt Mill at Ardbeg Distillery. Also visible at the top of the image is the Malt Hopper which funnels the whole malt grains into the mill.

Rear View of The Robert Boby Ltd Malt Mill at Ardbeg Distillery. Also visible at the top of the image is the Malt Hopper which funnels the whole malt grains into the mill.

Malt Samples at Ardbeg Distillery - five bins showing, from left to right: whole grains of malted barley, grist, husk, grit and flour (not visible).

Malt Samples at Ardbeg Distillery - five bins showing, from left to right: whole grains of malted barley, grist, husk, grit and flour (not visible).

The Mash Tun at Ardbeg distillery runs 5 tonnes of grist per mash cycle. There are 15 mash cycles per week (run over 24 hours/7 days a week). Each cycle produces 23,000 litres of wort.

The Mash Tun at Ardbeg distillery runs 5 tonnes of grist per mash cycle. There are 15 mash cycles per week (run over 24 hours/7 days a week). Each cycle produces 23,000 litres of wort.

The grist hopper (top) is used to funnel grist into the mash tun. Noted in the foreground is the underback tank where Ardbeg stores the liquid (wort) resulting from the mash cycle, before transferring it to a washback.

The grist hopper (top) is used to funnel grist into the mash tun. Noted in the foreground is the underback tank where Ardbeg stores the liquid (wort) resulting from the mash cycle, before transferring it to a washback.

The six washbacks at Ardbeg are filled with 23,000 litres of wort. This is roughly 3/4 full to allow the wort to rise during the fermentation process (like the process of bread rising during prooving). Washbacks have been known to overflow their yeasty contents - the smell and clean up must be awful.

The six washbacks at Ardbeg are filled with 23,000 litres of wort. This is roughly 3/4 full to allow the wort to rise during the fermentation process (like the process of bread rising during prooving). Washbacks have been known to overflow their yeasty contents - the smell and clean up must be awful.

View through the grated floor at Ardbeg Distillery. Like an iceberg, you only see a small fraction of a washback's total volume above the surface.

View through the grated floor at Ardbeg Distillery. Like an iceberg, you only see a small fraction of a washback's total volume above the surface.

Black and white photo of the wash (front) and spirit (rear) stills at Ardbeg Distillery.

Black and white photo of the wash (front) and spirit (rear) stills at Ardbeg Distillery.

The spirit still at Ardbeg Distillery, Islay, Scotland.

The spirit still at Ardbeg Distillery, Islay, Scotland.

Wide angle view of the spirit still at Ardbeg Distillery, looking from the base, up to the neck and the lyne arm where the purifier (copper pipe leading from lyne arm back into the still) is also visible.

Wide angle view of the spirit still at Ardbeg Distillery, looking from the base, up to the neck and the lyne arm where the purifier (copper pipe leading from lyne arm back into the still) is also visible.

Ardbeg 2016 casks numbers 10,077 to 10,097

Ardbeg's present annual capacity with their two wee stills is only 10,000 casks per year - in 2016 they managed to operate at 100% capacity and broke the 10,000 cask threshold (note the cask numbers pictured here are from 10,077 to 10,0097).

Black and white photograph of Casks in the warehouse at Ardbeg Distillery.

Casks in the warehouse at Ardbeg Distillery.

Sepia toned photograph of Ardbeg 2010 Casks on 3 racks. Ardbeg has only five warehouses at present (2019) - 2 dunnage warehouses and 3 racked, holding a total of 25,000 barrels. Ardbeg is in the process of expanding their warehousing capacity so more of their spirit can be matured on Islay.

Ardbeg 2010 Casks on 3 racks. Ardbeg has only five warehouses at present (2019) - 2 dunnage warehouses and 3 racked, holding a total of 25,000 barrels. Ardbeg is in the process of expanding their warehousing capacity so more of their spirit can be matured on Islay.

What Else Is Nearby

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.

This isn't an affiliate link, we just think it would be an awesome place to stay.

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.

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Distance photo of number 1 charlotte st port ellen islayacross the water

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.

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photograph of bedroom interior at Machrie Hotel near Port Ellen Islay Scotland

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.

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. 

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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.

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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.

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Cover image of the book The Island Whisky Trail: Scotland's Hebridean and West Coast Malt Whisky Distilleries by Neil Wilson

Island Whisky Trail by Neil Wilson, features Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Jura, Mull, Talisker and Oban. There is also a thorough look at the major role that women played in the history of illicit distilling in the County of Argyll with maps of known sites of distilling and appendices of the distillers and where and when they lived. I found it to be a very informative read.

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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