In 1815 the Ardbeg distillery was officially founded by John McDougall however; whisky was being distilled illicitly at this location from 1794 onwards. Although there are no documents to confirm this, it is assumed that John McDougall purchased the distillery from previous owners as opposed to building the distillery himself. Once under his ownership and officially opened as a legal producer of whisky, Ardbeg was the given its name from the Gaelic word ‘ad bheag’ meaning small hill and has since become a cult classic whisky brand.
From the off Ardbeg found success and in 1835 they had to increase production capacity in order to meet the high demand. In 1838, Thomas Buchanan a spirits dealer from Glasgow, purchased the distillery. The McDougall family still ran the distillery and once John McDougall’s son Alexander died, his sisters took the helm and became the first women distillery managers in history. Their names were Margaret and Flora and they managed the distillery alongside Colin Hay until 1853.
Colin Hay then became the sole owner of the Ardbeg distillery and had his son run it with him and then carry on once he had passed away. The period in which Colin Hay ran the distillery is possibly Ardbeg’s most important and will be discussed in a separate blog post.
The distillery was then repurchased by the McDougall family. They went through a few different managers until Ardbeg ended up closing in 1932 due to bankruptcy. Once the great depression had passed the Ardbeg reopened in 1959 by the McDougall family once again and the Ardbeg Distillery Ltd was founded.
After changing hands once more the distillery was mothballed from 1981 to 1989. Once reopened the owners at the time, Allied Distillers Ltd, only distilled for two months of the year. In 1997 the Glenmorangie Plc bought the distillery at full capacity and oversaw a brand redesign which is still prominent today. A year after the take over the Ardbeg café and visitor centre opened.
The most notable character of Ardbeg whisky is the heavily peated malts. Unlike other Islay distilleries, salinity isn’t as present, and they prefer to focus on spices, malts and sweeter aromas like vanilla and chocolate. The heavy peat provides the smoky tones, the purifier pipe in the lyne arm adds an oily texture and the long fermentation times adds the clean, acidic, fruitiness.
The two water sources used by the Ardbeg distillery are the Loch’s Uigeadail and Airigh Nam Beist. These provide the water for a million-litre production capacity which is rather large for a distillery with only two pot stills distilling only single malts. Ardbeg do not distribute their whisky to the blended market however some casks do get used by independent bottlers and you may find some Ardbeg in independently bottled whiskies.
The main range of Ardbeg are the Ardbeg Uigeadail, Corryvreckan and TEN. The latter named after its aged, Uigeadail after one of their water sources and Corryvreckan after the famous sea vortex between the Isles of Scarba and Jura. A few new additions to their bottle releases are Supernova, Alligator and Ardbog. They don’t have any age statements are very limited in quantity.