Whisky Magazine Issue 4
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Might the revival of Ardbeg one day lead to the release of a new 10-year old? If so, would it be like the Ardbeg of old? Neil Wilson looks at the ups and downs of a legend
When I first visited Ardbeg the year was 1984 and the distillery had been closed for three years. By 1990 the distillery was up and running again, but the whisky was intended mostly for blending. By the mid-nineties it was clear that Ardbeg's owner, Allied Distillers, wanted to commit to Laphroaig as its premium malt, and the future of Ardbeg, the world's most phenolic malt whisky, seemed to be at risk. It was, indeed, up for sale.
That a distillery with so much history and such a unique reputation might have ended up as a cast-off seems unthinkable, but the corporate logic was understandable. What was the point of Allied possessing two malt distilleries producing similar whiskies? Fortunately, Ardbeg's reputation was its saving grace, and after a number of suitors had showed their hands, Glenmorangie plc bought the plant for around £7 million in 1997. When I revisited Ardbeg last September, the transformation was amazing; the walls were bright with new white render, and doors, staircases and window frames were picked out in Ardbeg green.
Ardbeg's re-emergence has been widely welcomed by the competition. Its character has always given the blender an essential building brick in the complex construction of a whisky blend. Without Ardbeg, the blender's art and craft is further compromised. That much may be obvious, but there is more to Ardbeg's pedigree than mere whisky.
Perhaps the most unlikely part of it is the claim to being the first distillery in Scotland to be run by ...