Ardbeg lies solitary, in a small cove off the south coast of Islay. It was once a stage for illegal distillation, when smugglers took advantage of the remote location and exceptional conditions for whisky production. Eventually, excise men seized the original, illegitimate buildings from the smugglers and destroyed them. It was not until 1815 that a legal distillery was established and founded by John McDougall. Sitting nearby leviathan distilleries; Laphroaig and Lagavulin, Ardbeg has always produced a very sought-after single malt, despite its production scale being less than half that of its neighbours.
After running into some financial difficulties the distillery closed in 1981 and it was not until 1989 that distillation resumed, although on a very small scale. After closing again in 1996, then owners, Allied Domecq, put the distillery up for sale. It was bought in 1997 by Glenmorangie Co and was, at last, restored to its former grandeur. Its chief watersource, Loch Uigeadail, or ‘dark and mysterious place’ in Gaelic, became the inspiration for a bottling launched in 2003 under the same name. Ardbeg Uigeadail was later Jim Murray’s 2009 World Whisky of the Year, a title held previously by Ardbeg’s ten year-old. Ardbeg has become known for its rich, peated whiskies, very easily identifiable by their fullness of body and perfect harmony of flavour.
2005 saw Ardbeg acquired by luxury giant Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. Shortly after in 2006, Stuart Thompson, who had served as the distillery manager at Ardbeg since the take-over by Glenmorangie PLC in 1997, left the distillery after working at there for almost a decade. Following this, Michael "Mickey" Heads, an Islay native and former manager at Jura who had worked at Ardbeg years earlier, took over in March 2007. 2009 saw Ardbeg release its peatiest expression ever, in the form of Supernova.
In 2018, construction of a new still house began which will house four new stills, while the original still house is being refurbished in order to house six new washbacks. This will increase production from 1.4 million litres to 2.4 million litres.
Nose: A ridge of vanilla leads to mountain of peat capped with citrus fruits and circled by clouds of sea spray.
Palate: Sweet vanilla counterbalanced with lemon and lime followed by that surging Ardbeg smoke that we all know and love.
Finish: Long and glorious; sea salted caramel and beach bonfire smoke.