Opened in 1815, at one time Ardbeg was the largest distillery on Islay, supporting an entire community. Now, it is the second smallest, although due to its huge worldwide following, its community is bigger than ever.
As one of the most heavily peated spirits on Islay, Ardbeg is often seen as one of the beasts of Islay. However, thanks to a purifier on the spirit still, the new-make spirit is elegant and sweet, with a citrus-fruit character that sets the matured whisky apart from the other distilleries on the island.
Blighted by closures in its more recent history, Ardbeg is cherished by those who have discovered it. The distillates of the late 1960s and 1970s are often considered one of the truest expressions of Islay character, combining power and balance. Throughout the 1980s, the distillery only operated occasionally and was left to moulder by its owners.
In 1997, the distillery was rescued by The Glenmorangie Company, which has continued to produce the heavily peated style for which the distillery is famed. The style and character of the whisky have attracted fans from around the world, who make the pilgrimage to Islay to show off both their love of the spirit and their Ardbeg tattoos…
Using heavily peated barley – peated to above 50ppm – the new-make is characterised by the taming of heavy phenols by use of a purifier on the spirit still. This device runs a pipe from the lyne arm back into the main body of the still, increasing reflux and dropping heavier compounds back into the still rather than the final spirit.
The result of this process is a dense, sweet smoke and light citrus notes.