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Ardbeg was founded in 1815 on the south coast of Islay. Famed as one of the most heavily peated malts in the world, it inspires something of a cult following with devoted fans travelling thousands of miles to visit the home of their favourite dram.
Like many old distilleries, Ardbeg has had its fair share of problems over the years as public demand for peated whisky ebbed and flowed. Production ceased and the site lay mothballed for much of the 1980s. Things began to look rather bleak for the distillery and the small community that surrounded it. The story of Ardbeg wasn’t finished, however, and when Glenmorangie plc acquired the distillery and its ageing stocks, a new chapter in its long history began.
Today there are three core expressions of Ardbeg available: the Ten Year Old, the Uigeadail and the Corryvreckan, named after the strait of Corryvreckan, a body of water that sits to the north of the isle of Jura. This stretch of water has notoriously strong currents that clash to form the world’s third-largest whirlpool, capable of waves up to 30 feet high. It is said that the maelstrom can be heard ten miles away.
George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, very nearly became a victim of the Corryvreckan himself. In 1947, while living on Jura, Orwell went sailing with his three-year-old son and two friends only to find themselves off-course and powerless to stop their small craft from being pulled towards the whirlpool. The force of the water sheared the engine from their boat, leaving the men to battle the current with their oars.
After what must have seemed an age, the water calmed enough to allow their escape and the men were able to row to a nearby outcrop, only to have their boat capsize and leave them stranded, a mile off Jura. The party were eventually rescued when passing Lobstermen saw their campfire and came to their aid. They returned to Jura relatively unscathed, though some speculate that Orwell’s dip in the icy waters contributed to his diagnosis of tuberculosis later the same year.
Bottled at a whopping 57.1%, Ardbeg Corryvreckan is a dram worthy of the name. Heavily peated, it is available in the UK for around £70 a bottle.
Smell: Intense smoke, ash and charcoal intermingle with vanilla, lemon citrus and a touch of creamy malt.
Taste: A huge mouthful in every sense. Honey and lemon, dollops of pepper and intense smoke. The windswept coast of Islay in a bottle.
Thoughts: At £70 a bottle, this isn’t a cheap dram and the lack of an age statement is likely to worry some, but make no mistake, the Corryvreckan is a dram of exceptional quality that easily justifies its asking price. For me, it is one of the best heavily peated single malt whiskies on the market and probably the best of the Ardbeg range. Magnificent whisky.
*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.