Ardbeg Distillery

  • Founded: 1815
  • Status: Operational
  • Region: Islay, Scotland – Port Ellen, Islay, Argyll PA42 7EA +44(0)1496 302244
  • Online:

Image courtesy of Master of Malt

History The Ardbeg distillery has been producing whisky since 1798, and began commercial production in 1815. Like most Scottish distilleries, for most of its history, its whisky was produced for use in blended whisky, rather than as a single malt. By 1886 the distillery produced 300,000 gallons of whisky per year, and employed 60 workers. Production was halted in 1981, but resumed on a limited basis in 1989 and continued at a low level through late 1996, during the period when Ardbeg was owned by Hiram Walker. The distillery was bought and reopened by Glenmorangie plc (owned by the French company LVMH) with production resuming on June 25, 1997 and full production resuming in 1998. The distillery was reopened by Ed Dodson in 1997 and handed over to Stuart Thomson, who managed it from 1997 to 2006. Michael “Mickey” Heads, an Islay native and former manager at Jura who had worked at Ardbeg years earlier, took over on 12 March 2007.

The Whiskyphiles tasting notes

Official Bottling
  • Ardbeg10yo Ardbeg 10 Years Old (2015) - Classic and well-loved single malt from Ardbeg - and for good reason. Many baulk at the price-tag for this entry-level 10 year old expression, but on tasting few go back and feel they've been overcharged. Subtly constructed and quite complex. 87/100
  • Ardbeg 31 yo 1974 Cask 4989 Ardbeg 31 Years Old 1974 Single Cask 4989 (2015) - Wow! An awesome single cask example revealing how massive bourbon ageing can really temper the Ardbeg peat levels down to almost indistinguishable amounts. This one tasted like it should have stuck to the sides of the glass like treacle! This really was an exceptional single cask whisky born out of the Allied Domeq period at Ardbeg this would have been made at ~ 50-60 ppm phenol, measured in the malted barley and may well have been filled into the cask at the 'old' Ardbeg vatting strength of 70% - whereas today their new make typically comes off the still at 67-68% ABV and all casks are filled at 63.5% ABV. So sadly the likes of this cask may never be repeated! 94/100
  • Ardbeg 1975 Ardbeg 33 Years Old 1975 Single Cask 1376 (2015) - Another beautiful single cask example from Ardbeg, full of fruity, tannic and leather qualities from a long ex-sherry butt maturation. This expression really highlighted just how superior the preceeding 1974 Bourbon cask matured expression was. Although in essence this Ardbeg would normally fit my flavour profile, I found it perhaps overly dark fruity with little chocolate or nut influences (so I suspected ex-Oloroso) cask and almost a little too much ageing, even so this scored extremely highly as it really was a supreme whisky. If I had the choice (and money!) I think I would have bought 2 of the 1974 cask bottles instead though! 93/100
  • Ardbeg Alligator Ardbeg Alligator (2015) - Still my favoured Ardbeg expression, a shame they didn't decide to produce this 'super-toasted oak' version as their standard 12 Years Old expression! 93/100
  • Ardbeg Auriverdes Ardbeg Auriverdes (2015) - Not a classic Ardbeg peat-monster but actually quite subtle. Plenty of chocolate and possibly teetering on leaving my palate likes with a presentation of liquorice and aniseed towards the end (though I don't seem to have specifically disliked this whisky for it). Classified as a strange beastie, not the least as despite it being released in 2014, this Ardbeg has bucked the current trend of being highly sought after by collectors and is still available one year later directly from Ardbeg's shop at launch price!? This may well have fallen foul of the current trend of limited release Islay whiskies (where limited may mean any rather large number of thousands of bottles released - so actually not really that limited at all!). Anyway Dr Bill kinda sold this one to me at the tasting so I bought a bottle anyway. The low ABV may have convinced some people that this is constructed from much older (therefore greater loss to the Angel's Share) casks, whereas Dr Bill. may have been telling us tongue-in-cheek that these were matured in a particularly 'bad' part of the warehouse that experiences higher than usual alcohol loss, hence low final ABV. Or perhaps they were just a little to generous in watering this one down during the bottling process - I guess we'll never know? 84/100
  • Ardbeg Blasda Ardbeg Blasda (2014) - My overall opinion of Ardbeg's "lightly-peated" expression was that it was composed of nothing in extremes. Not particularly impressive I likened this to the Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve in that it seems to be lacking something (peat!) and in so doing reveals a whole host of jarring, unappealing flavours that didn't float my boat. If you fail to like Ardbeg because of the peat, this 8ppm expression is unlikely to win you over. 75/100
  • Ardbeg Distillery and Me Ardbeg Bourbon Cask (2014) - Sadly not actually for sale, I really enjoyed this Ardbeg cask sample, the only drawback was the peat smoke on the nose had a slightly smoldering ash or dirty ashtray quality (more akin to Caol Ila peaty influence) though the palate and finish were sublime. If anything this sample was like a cask strength version of the ever-popular Ardbeg 10 Year Old expression. A very fine and solid dram with a more reserved mini-monster of peat influence, delicious. 84/100
  • Ardbeg Corryvreckan Ardbeg Corryvreckan (2013) - This is certainly an experience, and can be a little hard work to drink as it has so many complex and strong elements. Overall it is a meaty, savoury dram with pepper spice. It has a certain quality like a raw nerve or open wound that you want to keep prodding into, even though you know it may hurt. Actually it's not really that painful to drink, but incredibly complex and strangely you keep coming back for more. I love it! One for the masochists, whatever you do do not waste this one on those who claim they don't like peaty whisky - it will just reinforce their dislike. I have a feeling I'll be back for more however, when this bottle runs dry. 88/100
  • Ardbeg Corryvreckan Ardbeg Corryvreckan (2015) - Similar flavour profile but I actually scored this expression higher by a few points. I initially found the Corryvreckan quite drying/tannic and challenging in my first review. Here it was sampled after both the Ardbeg 10 Years Old and Uigeadail expressions which may have nullified or equated my palate to the peat levels and allowed me to enjoy the more subtle flavour nuances in this expression - plus there are always aesthetics of sampling this in the company of its creator and understanding more of its construction. 91/100
  • Ardbeg_Dark_Cove Ardbeg Dark Cove (2016) - Slightly lighter in the palate than expected from the nose and colour, perhaps a little youthful and zesty in places, not as much sherry influence as say the Ardbeg Uigeadail expression. 84/100
  • Ardbeg_Dark Cove_Committee Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Edition (2016) - Initially this seems a little more refined than the standard version at 46.5% ABV, with a much deeper and darker presentation of flavours. Despite this I found it impossible to choose a favourite between the two editions. 84/100
  • Ardbeg French Oak Cask (2014) - YES YES YES! Herein is the essence of Corryvreckan in its unaldulterated form. This is truly a thing of beauty. If anything, the Corryvreckan seems to have diluted and added spice, fruit and pepper to the above core whisky, strange considering the additive is bourbon cask finished (unless there is also some not-virgin French oak casks used in the mix?). Of all the whisky we tried on Islay this was quite probably the absolute best - sad that it wasn't available to purchase as a standard Ardbeg bottling... 93/100
  • Ardbeg Galileo Ardbeg Galileo (2014) - Sadly I don't have enough Space moola (or Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination QUID's) to buy a bottle of this stuff, though I did get to sample it from a bottle clearly intended for some giant intergalactic species. I actually found this rather young and feisty and a little too acidic for my liking, so glad I kept my Quatloos in the bank after all. 79/100
  • ardbeg-kelpie-whisky Ardbeg Kelpie (2017) - A whisky of great depth with a lovely bitterness of cocoa and coffee combined with classic Ardbeg oily peatiness & marine influences of its namesake. If I can raise any criticism it is only that the nose promises more than the palate maybe deliver in this expression. 87/100
  • ardbeg-kelpie-committee-release Ardbeg Kelpie Committee Edition (2017) - Reasonable more enjoyable than the Limited Release at 46% ABV, this doesn't require any water and is perfectly drinkable neat. A greater intensity to the chocolate and surprisingly more obvious fruity element, the other flavours are variants on a theme but are just packaged together better here. 89/100
  • rdbeg-perpetuum-bicentenary-committee-release-whisky Ardbeg Perpetuum Committee Edition (2016) - Lovely nose on this expression, with a nice stewed fruit compote element. Powerful palate, always a delight from such pale whisky. Accomplished and well constructed classic Ardbeg with a gentle twist. 90/100
  • Ardbeg Distillery Ardbeg Sherry Cask (2014) - Loved this one but overall was a little too ashen and peaty which overpowered the sherry – presumably this is ironed out of the single casks when vatting for production of the Uigeadail expression. 89/100
  • Ardbeg-Supernova-2015-Committee-Release Ardbeg Supernova Committee Edition (2016) - Considering the peating level this is actually quite easy-going,redolent of vanilla milkshake in the beginning then explodes into all sorts of flavours as the peat and phenolics hit the palate, long, sweet zesty peat and shellfish stand out making this unmistakably Ardbeg. 87/100
  • Ardbeg-Uigeadail-single-malt-scotch-whisky Ardbeg Uigeadail (2013) - Nom nom nom, here is a whisky to chew over. Oh yes! This is like Christmas mince pies and washing them down with a good Sherry [i.e. what we called Santa's share in our house] by a smoky log fire. Every taste seems to either reveal something new or the flavours evolve in your mouth and draw out memories and reminiscence. For a no-age statement whisky this is superb, and perhaps some of the youth that goes into this gives it the fire and ever-changing character that makes it so special. 90/100
  • Ardbeg-Uigeadail-single-malt-scotch-whisky Ardbeg Uigeadail (2015) - Overall perhaps a variation on a theme, massively peaty and chewy Ardbeg finished in Oloroso sherry casks - maybe a little less sweet and jammy and not so much vanilla in this batch which seems a little spicier and much more chocolatey? I enjoyed it just as much as last time anyway! 90/100
Independent Bottling
  • Ardbeg-21-Years-Old-1993-2015-Authentic-Collection-Cadenhead Ardbeg 21 Years Old 1993 Authentic Collection (2016) - Minty, subtle peat as it has been tempered by a long maturation in a sadly very underactive cask - there are almost hints in here of freshly sawn wood and sawdust. 74/100
Scotch Malt Whisky Society
  • SMWS 33.121 SMWS 33.121 Barbecued pork on rosemary skewers (2014) - We were pleasantly surprised that this was from Ardbeg though it was distinctively a Kildalton malt from the outset. The sweetness and smoothness from such a young malt was a real bonus and the delicate nature of the peat-influence in the finish was simply divine. Our initial impression was possibly Laphroaig as it was peanut'y but lacking that real creosote flavour, then Lagavulin as it was malty and lactic and quite meaty in character, and finally pleasantly surprised to deduce it was Ardbeg due to the perfect combination of meaty and sweet. 86/100
  • rdbeg-2007-8-year-old-smws-33.132-beauty-and-the-beast SMWS 33.132 Beauty and the Beast (2016) - Wow! What a wonderful expression this has really taken on some cask influence in its short 8 year maturation. This adds a wonderful fruity sweetness to that smoked meat quality from the Ardbeg spirit. Like a single cask version of the Uigeadail expression (see our reviews of the 2012 and 2014 bottled expressions here). A little rough around the edges but this just feels like cigar smoke in the mouth. 90/100
Whisky Broker
  • ardbeg-21-year-old-1992-whiskybroker-2 Ardbeg 21 Years Old 1992 Single Cask 430 (2016) - Ardbeg's peaty beast of a spirit has been truly tamed in this single cask expression. The Hogshead has worked masses of sweet and creamy vanilla into this whisky, however a slightly metallic tang remains that could have arisen in the original distillate? The result is hugely drinkable even though the peat influence is still prominent, it is smooth and approachable and I could easily drink a lot more of this if I had too (or if I had it!) 88/100