Location: Port Ellen, Islay, PA42 7EA
Islay (pronounced Ai-luh. As in Isla St Clair*) is the southernmost island of the Inner Southern Hebrides of Scotland and sits just off the Kintyre peninsula on the Western coast of Scotland.
Much of Islay is covered in salt-spray saturated banks of peat which are used in the whisky industry to fire malt kilns. These peat-heated fires impart an iodine smokiness into the malt which gives the whiskies of Islay their distinctive flavour profile.
Established in 1815 (and having origins as far back as 1794), Ardbeg distillery is situated on the southern shore of Islay and are revered as distillers of the peatiest, smokiest and most complex of all the Islay malts. At the time, Ardbeg was famed for its unusual ‘fan-less’ on-site peat maltings which imparted a very heavy smokiness to the grains. The distillery deceased production in 1981 but reopened at a limited capacity in 1988. The distillery was then bought by Glenmorangie and reopened at full capacity in 1996, minus the maltings. Its current owners are French booze giants LVMH.
From the mainland, Hop on the Kennacraig to Port Ellen/Port Askaig car ferry and you’ll be there in around 2 hours. Waters around here can get a bit choppy, so if you have a similar nautical disposition as Rich (who gets seasick on boating lakes), don’t forget your travel tablets. From Port Ellen, head east along the A846. When you reach the village of Ardbeg (population: 20) turn right down Pier Road. The distillery is the big white building with ‘ARDBEG’ written on the side.
For those who like burning jet fuel, make like Rishi and jump on a Loganair flight from Glasgow. With a fair wind, you’ll be landing four miles north of Port Ellen in around 30 minutes.
Where to stay
There’s an abundance of accommodation on Islay so you should have too much bother finding a place to rest your heed. Rich’s sister in law stayed here once and said it was ‘very nice’. Looking on the map it’s a bit of a schlep to Ardbeg though.
Islay also boasts a collection of campsites for those on a tight budget. Just be aware of Scotland’s unenviable reputation for hosting midges. Midge season runs from May to September, where the chances of being gnashed to the point of hysteria runs from high to inevitable.
What to do
Aside to Ardbeg, there are currently eight (EIGHT!) other distilleries operating on Islay – with a couple more due to open – making the island a ‘must-visit’ for whisky fans. You can book tours to all of them but for your own wellbeing you’d be wise to intersperse your visits with a bit of Puffin spotting or a nice walk along the coast.
The Island also hosts a Festival of Malt and Music in late May every year which sounds great but being massive fans of The Wicker Man we’d be inclined to leave before the festival finale ‘just in case’.
Ardbeg Core Whisky Range
Ardbeg 10 Years Old 46%
Widely considered the peatiest, smokiest single malt of all (the single malts).
Tasting Notes: Sea spray. Tarry rope**.
Ardbeg Wee Beastie 47.4%
A feisty five year old malt, raw and smoky.
Tasting Notes: Chocolate, tar, and savoury meats. Black pepper and sappy pine resin.
Ardbeg An Oa 46.6%
A smoky dram, mellowed by a delectable, smooth sweetness.
Tasting Notes: Smoky. Sweet. Rounded.
Ardbeg Uigeadail 54.2%
A strong and smoky expression, matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.
Tasting Notes: Treacle. Bacon. Bonfires.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan 57.1%
Deeply peaty and peppery. This expression was Awarded The World’s Best Single Malt in 2010 by the World Whiskies Awards.
Tasting Notes: Swirling aromas. Peppery. Dark fruits.
Aside from their core range, Ardbeg’s running series of limited editions push the boundaries of traditional distilling practices TO THE MAX.
Ardbeg Heavy Vapors 46%
Launched: May 2023
A whisky distilled without a purifier, which has allowed the heaviest and untamed vapors to rise up the still during the distillation process before being captured, matured and bottled in classic Ardbeg casks. Very much a whisky with the gloves taken off.
Tasting Notes: Pungent earthiness, aromatic clouds of dark chocolate. A billow of aniseed and cinnamon and a lingering tang of sharp peppermint.
Ardbeg BizarreBQ 50.9%
Launched: June 2023
When grilling meets distilling. Master distiller Dr Bill Lumsden and Dj BBQ***, aka Christian Stevenson have collaborated to produce a whisky casked in double charred oak casks, Pedro Ximénez sherry casks and BBQ casks. The resulting dram is a meaty, peaty treat, perfect for complementing the charred charms of BBQ food.
Tasting Notes: Spice and smoke. Charred brisket. SAUSAGES! FIRE!
For more information, visit https://www.ardbeg.com/
* 60’s folk singer and trusty sidekick of camp comedy genius/Nuneaton LEGEND Larry Grayson.
** A term often used in whisky tasting notes. A tarry rope is a hemp rope treated with tar and used for rigging on sailing ships.
*** Whilst not familiar with his work, we are guessing DJ BBQ is an absolute boss at spinning sausages on his grill.