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Two weeks ago I reviewed a 200th-anniversary bottling of Lagavulin and it occurred to me at the time of writing that I had yet to review a malt from their neighbour along the coast. Ardbeg turned 200 in 2015 and has a claim to perhaps the strongest core range of them all. First though, some history…
Ardbeg was founded in 1815 by one John McDougall but its long life has not been without problems. Production ceased as recently as 1996 and it looked for all the world that the distillery’s story had reached its end. Just a year later, however, Glenmorangie PLC took over the running of the site and breathed new life into the Ardbeg stills. The company have since invested heavily in the distillery, introducing a new wood policy that brought the acquisition of better casks.
Ardbeg stands on Islay’s Kildalton coast near Port Ellen, a town founded by Walter Frederick Campbell. Campbell was known as an improving laird, that is, a landowner who made great changes to his estate, not just for his own benefit but for the benefit of his tenants and local businesses. Indeed, Walter Frederick and his grandfather (also Walter), established much of Islay as we know it today.
Walter Campbell became Laird in 1777, inheriting the title from his brother Daniel. He built new roads and constructed new quays to aid the local fishing industry. When his grandson, Walter Frederick took the title in 1816 he also began to reshape much of the island, creating Port Ellen in 1821, which he named for his wife Eleanor. He followed this in 1828 with Port Charlotte (after his mother) and later, Port Wemyss named in honour of Eleanor’s father, the Earl of Wemyss. Campbell was a great supporter of the commercial development of the island’s distilling industry and persuaded John McDougall to apply for a license to distil at Ardbeg.
Today Ardbeg is a global success story, inspiring fanatical devotion among whisky connoisseurs everywhere. Frequent special releases with extravagant names tempt collectors, while the relatively small core range is as good as you will find from any distiller. As an entry point, the 10-year-old, bottled at 46% abv, is a fine place to start…
Smell: A bombardment of Smoke and Ash at first but once you become accustomed to it, notes of Vanilla, Lemon and Barley come through – even reminds me of Custard Cream biscuits.
Taste: Citrus Orange, Salted Caramel, Vanilla, a little Coffee and waves of Tobacco Smoke.
Value for Money: Usually comes in around £40 – £45. More than some other 10-year-old malts but being bottled at 46% and un-chill-filtered, adds a little extra value in my eyes…
Ardbeg may not be for the faint-hearted. It’s big and it’s bold, but those that like their whisky smoky, will find it an absolutely essential single malt.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.