The McDougall brothers built a distillery
at Ardbeg Farm in 1798 with the help a few local
farmers. They chose a site on the south-eastern shore of
Islay, a few kilometres from the village Port Ellen.
Ardbeg did not run a commercial business until 1815, the
year Ardbeg officially was founded.
I the middle 1880s, the distillery was run successfully
by two McDougall sisters. At that time, the distillery
actually had 60 employees, as opposed to today’s 10. In
the end of the 19th century Ardbegs annual
production exceeded 1 million litres of whisky.
The distillery was owned by the McDougall family until
1959, when Ardbeg Distillery Ltd was formed. In 1973,
the distillery passed on to the newly formed Ardbeg
Distillery Trust for £300 000. The distillery was later
included in Allied Distillers together with many other
distilleries. In 1981 the distillery was closed down
since they believed they had enough whisky stored to be
able to meet future demand. Additionally, Allied
Distilleries also owned Laphroaig, which produces a
similar whisky. Eighteen jobs disappeared due to the
closedown. Allied Distillers decided to re-open the
distillery in 1989, but it was only run at half capacity.
In 1996, Allied Distilleries decided to sell Ardbeg.
There was no lack of interested parties, and the
purchase finally went to Glenmorangie PLC for £7
million. Of the sum obtained from the sale, the Ardbeg
brand name counted for £300 000. Glenmorangie quickly
spent quite a bit of money (£1.4 million) in order to
get the distillery up-and-running. The new owners
realized the importance of continuing the Ardbeg
craftsmanship which is so important to the whisky’s
flavour. In 2000 the distillery launched the Ardbeg
Committee, which has a free membership. Through the
association, its members receive news and special
offers. The Ardbeg Committee has members in more than 90
The distillery recently released a new bottling, Very
Young Ardbeg, the first since Glenmorangie PLC took over
the business. The Ardbeg Committee has added it to their
list of ‘committee approved bottling’ with the statement
‘…a vigorous whisky on its way to full maturity’.
The water used comes from the lake Loch Uigeadail, which
also has lent its name to Ardbegs latest bottling. The
water in Loch Uigeadail is soft and very peaty. Ardbeg
used to malt all its barley themselves until 1973 when
they started buying 30% of their barley from Port Ellen
Maltings. Since the re-opening in 1989, Ardbeg buys all
their malt from Port Ellen Maltings. The malt used for
Ardbeg is widely considered to be the most peat-smoked
in all of Scotland. However, Bruichladdich claim they
are producing a whisky which will be even smokier than
The mash tuns are made from stainless steel and contain
4.5 tons each. The six washbacks are made from larch and
pinewood. Ardbeg has two Onion Stills; the wash still
holds 21 000 litres and the spirit still holds 17 000
litres. Ardbegs spirit still has a so called ‘purifier’
at the end, which re-distils the alcohol. Up until 1974
the whisky was stored in warehouses right by the
shoreline, supposedly adding a touch of salt and tang to
the whisky. Today, the whisky is stored on-site in four
traditional warehouses. The bottling is done in Broxbury
just outside Edinburgh.
Ardbeg produced 550 000 litres in 1999. In 2003 that
amount had almost doubled to 1 million litres.
Ellen, Isle of Islay,
Argyll PA42 7EA
Phone: +44 (0)
Ardbeg receive their
visitors in a modern visitors’ centre. They have regular
guided tours priced at £2.50, which you get back when you
make a purchase over £17. They have a large,
popular café with some local dishes seasoned with whisky. The shop
adjacent to the café has a large selection of whisky,
clothes, glasses etc.
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