Ardbeg Distillery was founded in 1815 on the south coast of Islay. Known as one of the smokiest drams on the planet, it is safe to say that the malt made here has something of a cult following amongst whisky drinkers. Those that like Ardbeg, tend to love Ardbeg.
Like many old distilleries, Ardbeg has had it’s ups and downs as the industry and in particular, the demand for peated whisky ebbed and flowed. Production was halted and the distillery mothballed for most of the 80’s and despite a brief resurgence, things looked bleak when the stills were silenced again in 1996. Fortunately, the folks at Glenmorangie were looking to expand their profile and had one eye on this sleeping giant of Islay.
The distillery was reopened in 1997 and has gone from strength to strength under new leadership that has seen Ardbeg become one of the most fashionable single malt brands in today’s world market.
The distillery releases three core expressions of their single malt – the Ardbeg Ten Year Old – bottled at 46%, the Ardbeg Uigeadail – bottled at 46% and the Ardbeg Corryvreckan – bottled at a whopping 58%.
The Corryvreckan is a mighty dram indeed and is named after the Strait of Corryvreckan, a body of water that sits between the islands of Jura and Scarba. There are unnaturally strong currents here that form the world’s third largest whirlpool, capable of waves up to 30 foot high that create a maelstrom heard up to ten miles away.
The author George Orwell nearly became a victim of the Corryvreckan. Orwell was living on the Isle of Jura at the time and working on the novel that would become Nineteen Eighty-Four. One afternoon in 1947 he set out sailing with two friends and his three year old son. However, his navigation let him down and the violent currents pulled the boat too close to the whirlpool. The strength of the water sheared the engine from the boat, leaving the party completely at the mercy of the sea. Fotunately, the men were able to battle against the current with oars, at least long enough for the waters to calm and the whirlpool recede. They steered towards a nearby outcrop, about a mile from Jura. Their troubles weren’t over though as their boat capsized when they disembarked, leaving them stranded with no means of escape. The party were only rescued when passing Lobstermen saw their campfire and picked them up.
Just one of many tales in these tumultuous waters. As for the dram named after the whirlpool, it is equally wild and powerful…
The Scores: About the Scoring…
Smell: 19.5 / 20. Wow this is intense. Smoke and Ash with Charcoal and Coal Fire intermingled with Creamy Vanilla and Lemon Citrus. With water added, a nice Malty note comes through.
Taste: 19.5 / 20. A big, intense and powerful dram with Honey and Lemon, Vanilla and bags of Pepper and Smoke. This is the wild, windswept and sea-battered south coast of Islay in a bottle.
Value for Money: 9 / 10. The Corryvreckan is not a cheap dram, coming in at around £70 a bottle, but there is no doubting the quality on offer here. Sure, an age statement would be nice but when the content of the bottle is this good, the information on the label seems less important.
Overall: 48 / 50. It’s a dram probably best avoided if you don’t like them smokey but if you do, the Corryvreckan is right up there with the best on the market. Magnificent.