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Saturday 27 May 2017




The name Laphroaig is Gaelic and means “The beautiful hollow by the broad bay”. Laphroaig is one of the oldest distilleries on Islay and this story shows that, despite whisky distilling being often romanticised, it was also a dangerous occupation.

Let me stress here that our Indian countryside was as neat, if not more than that of Scotland and interior England in those years. Real life photographs are undisputable proof. After the Scottish Civil War of 1745, three Johnston Brothers came to Islay, ostensibly for farming and the three occupied different parts of Islay. Two of their sons, Donald and Alexander, started their own farms at Laphroaig around 1810 and started distilling soon afterwards. When Alexander died in 1836 Donald became the sole owner of Laphroaig. At that time the Campbells, who owned Donald's land, leased a plot to James and Andrew Gairdner who built a rival distillery next to Laphroaig. They installed two experienced Clackmann distillers, James and Andrew Stein, to take charge. Donald Johnston, owner of Laphroaig at the time, was deeply disturbed finding out that the new distillery, Ardenistiel, proposed to use the same watersource. Water that made a vital contribution to Laphroaig's unique character. Specially when Donald was about to expand his business leaving him with inadequate water supply.

Donald appealed to the judiciary re the probems he had with the sharing of the water supply and the fact that the expansion of his business wasn’t possible without proper water supply. The dispute lasted almost 6 years and ended abruptly when Andrew Stein fell ill with fever and died soon afterwards. His brother James, who couldn’t cope with distilling alone, stopped and moved to Port Ellen. In June the following year Donald himself died in a tragic accident at the Laphroaig distillery. It was a hard life in those times. ...and no Life Insurance in them old days!

Laphroaig in 1887 with the ruins of Ardenistiel distillery in the right hand bottom corner

The Ardenistiel Distillery was also known as Kildalton (1849-52) and Islay (1852). This distillery was taken over by Laphroaig in 1853.

Laphroaig became a successful whisky distillery and the neighbouring Lagavulin distillery sought to cash in on their neighbour’s success and built identical stills to try and get the same taste as Laphroaig. The Lagavulin distillery, however, got its water "from the other side of the hill" which was the reason for the different character of Lagavulin whisky and its failure in copying Laphroaig. It is also said that the location of the maturation houses from Laphroaig, being so close to the sea, make a difference in the taste.


‘Lagavulin, or “The Mill Hollow”, one of the oldest places of habitation in the island is situated on the margin of the sea, together with its picturesque surroundings, combine to make it one of the most desirable locations upon the island, so justly designated the Queen of the Hebrides.’

The Lagavulin story begins, as so often in tales of Scotch whisky, with smuggling and illegality. Lagavulin is the oldest distillery on Islay, the business having been actually commenced by a smuggling fraternity as early as the year 1742 in about 10 separate bothies in the bay.

Lagavulin only went legit in 1816, when the various enterprises were combined into not one, but initially two distilleries, operating side by side and owned by the same family, the Johnstons. The second plant, confusingly named Ardmore, ceased production shortly afterwards.

First we must say that the salubrity of atmosphere, good water, and the finest quality of malt have much to do with the production of Lagavulin whisky. Lagavulin has a high reputation both at home and abroad; as a single whisky its reputation is unique, and it is one of the few Highland whiskies that can be drunk alone.’                Alfred Barnard, pioneering Victorian whisky writer

These were Victorian times, and people who didn’t talk about drinking a great deal. Writing about the Highlands seems to have given people permission to write about drinking. And when they write about drinking, people seem to have been drinking Lagavulin.

When Lagavulin came under the control of Peter Mackie in 1878, he clearly wanted to celebrate the fame of his distilleries, as well as creating the White Horse blend. These were the only two brands of Scotch Whisky that USA allowed entry during its infamous Prohibition Era, doled out as a medicinal prescription by doctors.

The Lagavulin/White Horse association, made manifest by the painted equine emblem on the roof of the distillery, remains to this day: while most of Lagavulin’s production is destined for bottling as a single malt, it is still part of the White Horse blend.

‘Restless Peter’s reputation is coloured by some of his actions. Irked by the loss of the agency for neighbouring Laphroaig, he built a painstaking replica distillery within Lagavulin, using his knowledge of its operations and even poaching someone from the distillery two miles down the road to seal the deal.

But Malt Mill, as this early micro-distillery became known, didn’t produce Laphroaig. Or Lagavulin, for that matter. It was used in a couple of Mackie blends, particularly Ancient Scotch, as it had a very unusual phenolic character, very different to Lagavulin.

Used for blending and never – as far as we know – bottled as a single malt, Malt Mill ceased operations in 1962 and remains one of the more enigmatic ‘lost’ distilleries, epitomising the elusive nature of distillery character. It is also referred to as ‘a tribute to Peter Mackie’s bloodymindedness’.

Mackie’s reputation as an eccentric is only part of the story. He set up the first lab for whisky quality, and he was obsessed with whisky quality and consistency. And Lagavulin reaped the rewards.

Lagavulin is generally drunk throughout the island and is much prized by the inhabitants… Lagavulin whisky is sold largely in Scotland, England and the chief foreign markets, and is in such demand that the orders exceed the output, which reaches 100,000 gallons annually. 

Lagavulin today, while dwarfed by bigger brands such as Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet, is a stalwart single malt, a global favourite that was part of the sextet that formed the initial Classic Malts line-up. But why Lagavulin and not, for instance, Caol Ila?

‘Quality and reputation,’ responds an aficionado . ‘In the discussions that went into choosing the Classic Malts there were two or three factors in play. One would be quality and reputation – which is quite amorphous, but we all know which distilleries are famous and which aren’t. Then attractiveness: could you take visitors there? It would never have been Caol Ila.’

The deliberations fell short, however, on the matter of supply. Tying Lagavulin to a 16-year-old age statement didn’t help either – and the distillery has remained on allocation for much of its recent past. They never imagined that we would be selling 100,000 cases or whatever it is. In fact, ‘they’ wondered if anyone would want to drink Lagavulin at all. Delving back further into the 1980s when people were starting to agitate over the evident success of Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie, The Ascot Cellar collection (a Classic Malts precursor) included a 12-year-old Lagavulin – but only reluctantly. The old established DCL hands didn’t believe that people would drink Talisker, Lagavulin or Caol Ila. They thought all these brands were far too challenging.

In the end, a number of factors conspire to give a much-loved distillery like Lagavulin its special status: the liquid, without doubt, but also the place, the people and the history. And, in more practical and prosaic terms, its usefulness as both blending component and stand-alone single malt. This is the key to why Lagavulin (and Caol Ila) survived the cull of the early 1980s when Port Ellen didn’t. The DCL committee would have looked at a number of issues – the cost of alcohol insofar as they were able, the water supply (which wasn’t very good at Port Ellen), but the key was the recommendations of the blending committees. They asked which whiskies they wanted and which they didn’t need. Caol Ila and Lagavulin were very important. But if you’d asked people about Port Ellen even in the 1990s, nobody would have given a fig for it, and apparently it wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to work.’

And so, 200 years on from legal establishment, and considerably longer since distillation began at its location, Lagavulin remains, its buildings huddled into the dramatic landscape of the Kildalton coast in a romantic situation. The exigencies of the location make expansion problematic, although by no means impossible. Lagavulin is to some extent, trapped in its own history. 


Often, Islay-whisky lovers face the question as to which of Laphroaig or Lagavulin distilleries is better. They are really close neighbours, about 1.5 km apart and make similar whiskies in re peat content, smokiness and a taste which wouldn’t be out of place in an apothecary’s stopshop. So such a question must needs arise. But there is no template for comparing this breed of whiskies, which have flavours and tastes from a different planet. Still, one may study their histories, which have quite a bit in common.


The histories of Lagavulin and Laphroaig are closely tied, with Laphroaig said to have been founded by the son of the founder of Lagavulin. They were both called Johnston, you see.

After Laphroaig's Donald Johnston (the aforementioned son of John Johnston) fell into a vat of boiling whisky in 1847, Lagavulin's Walter Graham leased Laphroaig and ran both distilleries until the young Dugald Johnston (Donald Johnston's son) was ready to take over Laphroaig. However, a generation or so later, around the end of the 19th Century, the two distilleries got into an unseemly and litigious scrap after Laphroaig tried to get out of an existing agency agreement to sell their whisky to Lagavulin for the latter's blends (which included White Horse, invented in 1890 by Lagavulin's then-owner Peter Mackie). This resulted in a string of court cases.

After the agency had finally run out in 1907, and with Laphroaig refusing to renew it, Lagavulin retaliated and blocked off Laphroaig's water supply, necessitating another return to court to sort out the rights. Laphroaig won this round, only for Lagavulin to pinch its distillery manager the following year and set about trying to create copies of Laphroaig's stills in a bid to make a spirit that would taste exactly the same. Fortunately, this attempt was not successful and today relations between the two great distilleries are rather more cordial.


Laphroaig distillery is an Islay single malt Scotch whisky distillery. It is named after the area of land at the head of Loch Laphroaig on the south coast of the Isle of Islay. A commonly suggested etymology implies an original Gaelic form something like "Lag Bhròdhaig" (the hollow of Broadbay). The name may be related to a placename on the east coast of Islay, "Pròaig", again suggested as meaning "broad bay". The distillery and brand are owned and operated by Beam Suntory, the American subsidiary of Japan's Suntory Holdings.

The Laphroaig distillery was established in 1815 by Donald and Alexander Johnston. In 1847, co-founder Donald Johnston died in dramatic circumstances and for the next decade Walter Graham, manager of neighbouring distillery Lagavulin, ran the company. Laphroaig returned to Johnston family hands in 1857 when Donald’s son Dugald gained ownership. The last member of the Johnston family to run the distillery was Ian Hunter, a nephew of Sandy Johnston, who died childless in 1954 and left the distillery to one of his managers, Bessie Williamson. 

Laphroaig’s unique flavour comes in part from its vicinity to the coast and the high moss content of its peat, which is processed in the distillery’s own floor maltings. More comparative details are available here.

The distillery was sold to Long John International in the 1960s, subsequently becoming part of Allied Domecq. The brand was in turn acquired by Fortune Brands in 2005, as one of the brands divested by Pernod Ricard in order to obtain regulatory approval for its takeover of Allied Domecq. Fortune Brands then split up its business product lines in 2011, forming its spirits business into Beam Inc. Beam was then purchased by Suntory Holdings in April 2014.

Laphroaig has been the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales, which was awarded in person during a visit to the distillery in 1994. The distillery identifies Charles by his title of Duke of Rothesay, as he is recognised in Scotland. The 15-year-old was reportedly the prince's favourite Scotch whisky. 

Friends of Laphroaig: In 1994 the Friends of Laphroaig Club was established, members of which are granted a lifetime lease of 1 square foot (930 cm2) of Laphroaig land on the island of Islay. The annual rent is a dram of Laphroaig which can be obtained upon visiting the distillery.


Lagavulin is owned by Diageo PLC, the company formed by the merger of United Distillers & Vintners and Guinness. It was previously marketed under the Classic Malts range of single malts, which is now defunct. The standard bottling is a 16-year-old, bottled at 43% ABV. They also bottle a Distiller's edition, finished in Pedro Ximénez Sherry casks. Alongside these, they regularly release a 12-year-old cask strength version and various older and rarer expressions.

The name Lagavulin is an anglicisation of Lag a' Mhuilinn, the Scottish Gaelic for hollow of the mill. The distillery of Lagavulin officially dates from 1816, when John Johnston and Archibald Campbell constructed two distilleries on the site. One of them became Lagavulin, taking over the other—which one is not exactly known. Records show illicit distillation in at least ten illegal distilleries on the site as far back as 1742, however. In the 19th century, several legal battles ensued with their neighbour Laphroaig, brought about after the distiller at Lagavulin, Sir Peter Mackie, leased the Laphroaig distillery. It is said that Mackie attempted to copy Laphroaig's style. Since the water and peat at Lagavulin's premises was different from that at Laphroaig's, the result was different. The Lagavulin distillery is located in the village of the same name. 

Lagavulin is known for its producer's use of a slow distillation speed and pear shaped pot stills. The two wash stills have a capacity of 11,000 litres and the two spirit stills of 12,500 litres each. Lagavulin is almost exclusively matured in ex-bourbon casks, meaning its robust, uncompromising smoke and salted-fish character comes storming out of the glass unhindered. 

Allocations of the standard 16 Year Old are never adequate to satisfy demand for the product, resulting in frequent shortages. Diageo solves this problem by also releasing a cask strength 12 Year Old almost every year, along with the vintage-dated Distillers Edition series, which has been finished in sweet Pedro Ximénez sherry casks and has won numerous awards in its own right. To mark its 200th anniversary in 2016, Lagavulin released an eight-year-old whisky that is very highly rated, as affirmed by The Whisky Exchange.

Its whiskies are made with water from the Solan Lochs, while the peat – so crucial to their distinctive flavour – comes from the extensive peat bogs in the west of the island. Its phenol rating is 35 ppm, like Laphroaig. This is a steep climbdown from the phenol count of 50 ppm right up to 1990, when it started to drop its ppm gradually to 35 by 1996. So, do cast your eyes about for a pre-2006 bottling, a tricky job, at best. That Lagavulin is a bomb, compared to today's 'mild' offerings.

There are four stills at Lagavulin, two of them pear-shaped in the style inherited from Malt Mill, which run for longer than any others on Islay. Lagavulin whiskies will be in the stills for more than five hours for the first distillation and more than nine hours for the second. This long distillation is said to contribute towards the whisky’s roundness and mellow edges.

Buying whisky online? Try this great site

Saturday 20 May 2017



Diageo, the leading Scotch whisky company, announced most of the line-up for this year's Special Release bottlings a few months ago. Today they have announced more details of each whisky, plus the 10th and final bottling the will make up the 2017 series - this is the Collectivum XXVIII, a blended malt which contains whiskies from each of Diageo's 28 Scottish malt distilleries that are currently in production. Every year the Special Releases, which first appeared in 2001, are eagerly anticipated by whisky fans and collectors.

This year's releases are:

Blair Athol 24 YO ABV: 58.4%

Brora 34 YO: ABV: 51.9%

Caol Ila 18 YO ABV: 59.8%

Collectivum XXVIII: NAS, ABV: 57.3%

Convalmore 32 YO: ABV: 48.2%

Glen Elgin 18 YO: ABV: 54.8%

Lagavulin 12 YO: ABV: 56.5%

Port Dundas 52 YO: ABV: 44.6%

Port Ellen 37 YO: ABV: 51%

Teaninich 17 YO: ABV: 55.9%

Relevant details of each whisky, including prices, are available at

Wednesday 17 May 2017



Almost everybody I told that Ardbeg was a twice mothballed distillery that was finally bought in 1997 by Glenmorangie (read LVMH, of which Diageo owns 30%) didn't believe me. History doesn't lie. Scotch simply meant blended Scotch, nothing else, though Blended Malts were much the rage in the 1880s, right up to 1915. That meant a lot, as Blended Scotch- where a grain whisky could be added to a malt whisky- had arrived in 1860 for Distillers and 1863 for Grocers. Ardbeg just did not mix, such was its taste. Production, when attempted, would be for a couple of months a year, just to keep the distillery alive. It was a losing proposition, which is why it was mothballed twice. The good thing though, was that there was a plenitude of old Ardbeg barrels.

Although it has long claimed to be Islay’s smokiest malt (now challenged by Bruichladdich’s Octomore), Ardbeg can also realistically lay claim to be one of the island’s sweetest. It is this combination of rich sooty/tarry smoke with a citric sweet core which gives it its balance.

There have been many ups and downs on the long road to Ardbeg throughout the years. Ardbeg’s story is one of irrepressible spirit surviving against the odds, finally emerging as “unquestionably, one of the greatest distilleries in Scotland.” That could be conceded, as long as the region is Scotland. Given to US-styled self-aggrandizement, some blinkered blokes call it the greatest distillery on Earth, but then these blokes have no idea that countries like Japan, India and Taiwan, among many others, make amazing smoked and peated single malts.

A rise in demand for peated whisky saw production increase in the 1960s and 1970s, with demand necessitating that the distillery bring in peated malt from Port Ellen from 1974. For aficionados, the end of Ardbeg’s self-sufficiency was the end of an era – and a style. Seven years later, Ardbeg’s kiln was finally extinguished.

Hiram Walker took full control in 1979, buying out DCL’s 50% share for £300,000, and everyone else’s holdings at the same time. By that time, blends were once again on the slide and, to compensate for the drop in demand for smoky malt, an unpeated make (Kildalton) began to be produced.

In 1981 the distillery was mothballed, but started up again in 1989, albeit on an intermittent basis, by which time it had joined Laphroaig in the Allied Distillers stable. 

In 1996, it was silent once more, but saved a year later by Glenmorangie, which paid £7m for the distillery and stock – or what there was of it. By this time, Ardbeg had built its reputation as one of the cult single malts. Glenmorangie’s task therefore was both to manage expectations, eke out the remaining stock, and start recreating the brand. In an inspired move they also invested in a visitor centre and café (for years pretty much the only place to eat in the south of Islay).

The whiskies of Ardbeg are usually heavily peated malts. Compared to other Islay malts Ardbeg doesn’t focus on the sea and salt tastes. They rather focus on aromas of spices, malt or sweet tones like vanilla and chocolate. Their core range consists of the Ardbeg TEN, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan. The TEN is named after its age. Uigeadail was named after the Loch Uigeadail a lake. The Corryvreckan is a famous sea vortex between the Isle of Jura and the Isle of Scarba.

The stock profile meant that its first age statement release was a 17-year-old, while it would take until 2008 for its own Ardbeg 10-year-old to appear. From 2004, however, there had been incremental releases: ’Very Young’, ‘Still Young’ and ‘Almost There’ showed the work in progress. In 2004, LVMH bought both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, and prices were ramped up as expected. Ardbeg was to benefit from Glenmorangie's signature cask policy.

The portfolio still concentrates on no-age-statement releases, some exclusively from (now very rare) old stock, others from new, some from a mix. Different oaks have also been used as part of a general improvement in the quality of casks used. The range has been bolstered in recent years by the addition of core expressions Ardbeg An Oa (NAS) in 2017 and Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Year Old two years later.

In February 2018, plans were unveiled to double Ardbeg’s production capacity with the addition of another pair of stills, to be housed with the existing two in a new still house. The current stillhouse will be redeployed to house new washbacks.

The production volume of around 1,000,000 litres is quite large for a two pot still distillery that only produces single malt whisky. Ardbeg doesn't supply its spirit to the blended whisky industry, but sometimes a few barrels reach the independent bottlers so there are numerous independent bottles on the market. The Isle of Islay has quite a few water sources, so the Ardbeg distillery can get its water from two main water sources: the Loch Airigh Nam Beist and the Loch Uigeadail.

Ardbeg distillery brings out annually on Ardbeg Day a special release with no age statement (Supernova, Ardbog, Alligator, Dark Cove, Kelpie, Blaaack, et al). These bottles are highly advertised, quite special in taste and price and very limited in quantity. Ardbeg Committee Members get first choice. 

Let's take it one step at a time:


Ardbeg’s story is one of irrepressible spirit surviving against the odds, to emerge from the ashes as“the greatest distillery on Earth.”(sic)

1815 – Ardbeg Distillery is founded. John Macdougall takes out a licence, establishing Ardbeg Distillery as a legitimate commercial concern. There's more to this story. Whisky was being produced there illegally since 1794!

1838 – A new owner. Thomas Buchanan, a Glasgow spirit merchant, buys the Distillery for £1,800. John Macdougall’s son Alexander continues to manage operations.

1853 – Alexander Macdougall dies. After his death, Ardbeg is co-run by Colin Hay and Macdougall’s sisters, Margaret and Flora, who may rightfully be Scotland’s first female distillers.

1887 –Ardbeg starts producing 250,000 gallons (1.1 million litres) of whisky a year, making it the most productive distillery on Islay.

1911 – The name ‘Ardbeg’ is registered as a trademark. The distinctive letter ‘A’ is also registered to protect Ardbeg’s brand and reputation.

1922 – Alexander MacDougall & Co Ltd buys Ardbeg for £19,000.

1977 – Hiram Walker acquires Ardbeg.

1981 – Production dwindles to zero. The distillery closes. 

1987 – Allied Lyons acquires Hiram Walker and therefore Ardbeg. Two years later, small-scale distilling resumes to satisfy demand for Ardbeg from blenders.

1991 – The distillery closes down again.

1997 – The Glenmorangie Company purchases the distillery and the Distillery reopens in 1997. Full-time production commences, with the first bottlings comprising 17 YO, 1978 Vintage and Ardbeg Provenance.

1998 – Ardbeg is voted Distillery of the Year. In a remarkable turnaround in only 12 short months the 17 Years Old plus Ardbeg 1975 20 Years Old launches prove Ardbeg’s mettle.

1999 – Production reaches 600,000 litres a year. Investment in new people and new equipment is already beginning to pay off. PLUS Ardbeg single casks are hand selected and released in very limited, exclusive bottlings.

2000 – Ardbeg Ten Years Old and Ardbeg Committee launched. The extraordinary balance of peaty power and floral sweetness makes it a big hit and the core expression in the Ardbeg range. PLUS the worldwide Ardbeg Committee is formed to ensure ‘the doors of the Distillery never close again’.

2003 – Ardbeg Uigeadail is released. It is named after the Distillery’s water source, meaning ‘dark and mysterious place’. PLUS the first Glenmorangie Company distillate is released to The Committee ‘for discussion’, a limited bottling of Very Young Ardbeg.

2004 – Very Young Ardbeg is born. The Committee overwhelmingly approves the distillate, leading to the launch of Very Young Ardbeg. A 6 YO distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2004, it turned whisky thinking on its head.

2005 – A Serendipitous year. Ardbeg is established as part of the House of Glenmorangie within Moet Hennessy/LVMH. Production reaches 1 million litres. PLUS someone pulls the wrong lever and mixes Ardbeg with a small quantity of Glen Moray. Disaster is averted with the unbranded release of Serendipity.

2006 – Young, old and rare. Ardbeg Still Young is launched, the next step on ''the peaty path to maturity''. Ardbeg 1965, an extremely limited release of only 261 bottles is the oldest Ardbeg ever to be released: 'the envy of Islay'. Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist ("the Beastie") is released, drawn from rare and restricted whisky stocks, laid down in 1990. 

2007 – Michael Heads becomes Ardbeg’s 20th Manager and Chairman of the Ardbeg Committee. PLUS: Ardbeg Almost There is bottled – the third limited release of the 1998 distillate. Ardbeg Mor becomes the biggest launch to date. Mor (Gaelic for  'big and magnificent') is 1,000 sought-after 4.5 litre bottles of cask strength Ten Years Old. Ardbeg Double Barrel unveiled – 250 pairs of the acclaimed Ardbeg 1974 vintage single cask bottlings presented in luxury shotgun cases.

2008 – World Whisky of the Year. Ardbeg Ten Years Old wins World Whisky of the Year. PLUS: Ardbeg Renaissance completes the peaty path to maturity. Ardbeg Corryvreckan is released to the Committee. Lightly peated Ardbeg Blasda – Gaelic for 'sweet and delicious' – is launched.

2009 – World Whisky of the Year again. Ardbeg Uigeadail scoops the World Whisky of the Year honour in the 2009 – the second time for Ardbeg. PLUS: 3,000 bottles of Ardbeg Supernova, the peatiest Ardbeg ever, are snapped up in record time. Ardbeg Corryvreckan joins the core range on worldwide release.

2010 – Three times a winner. Ardbeg Supernova is awarded Scotch Whisky of the Year. Ardbeg Corryvreckan wins World's Best Single Malt Whisky and Single Malt of the Year. PLUS Ardbeg Rollercoaster is released to celebrate the Committee’s 10th anniversary.

2011 – The tale of the ‘Islay-gator. ‘Alligator char’ American Oak casks and a smoky, spicy flavour ensure Ardbeg Alligator is snapped up by the Committee.

2012 – Ardbeg Galileo launched. 60,000 bottles sell out within 48 hours. PLUS we celebrated the first ever Ardbeg Day by holding not the Olympics, but the ‘Islay-limpics’.

2013 – Ardbeg Ardbog launched. Sold out as of today.

2014 – Ardbeg Auriverdes launched.  

2015 – 200 years of Ardbeg. Instead of looking backwards for Ardbeg’s bicentenary, they looked 200 years into the future. Ardbeg Perpetuum launched.

2016 – Ardbeg Dark Cove recalls smuggling past.

2017– Ardbeg Kelpie set for Launch on Ardbeg Day.

2017– Ardbeg An Oa: A welcome new addition to the Ultimate range, Ardbeg An Oa is singularly rounded, due in no small part to time spent in the newly established bespoke oak Gathering Vat where whiskies from several cask types familiarise themselves with each other. The result is a dram with smoky power, mellowed by a delectable, smooth sweetness. NAS 46.6% ABV

2018– Ardbeg Grooves is the year's Ardbeg Day Release. 

2019Ardbeg Drum released on Ardbeg Day, 46% ABV.

2019– Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Years Old: The new Ardbeg Traigh Bhan is the first permanent age statement whisky which has been released by the distillery in 20 years. It is a small batch and will come in annual releases. The expression is named after Traigh Bhan, a beach on Ardbeg’s home island of Islay. 19 Years Old 46.2% ABV.

2020– Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Years Old Batch 2: With a subtle change to the batch recipe, this is a transformational dram. That said, the impossible balance of Batch 1 is still ever-present in Batch 2’s taste profile, as well as the palatable parallels with the place that inspired it – Islay’s Singing Sands. 19 Years Old 46.2% ABV.

2020– Ardbeg Wee Beastie is the latest permanent expression to join the Distillery’s Ultimate Range. At just five years old, Wee Beastie is a feisty young creature with a formidable taste. Out to make the rawest, smokiest Ardbeg ever, the result is Ardbeg Wee Beastie and this tongue-tingling, beautifully smoky dram is the youngest Ardbeg they’ve ever made. And the cheapest! 5 Years Old 46.2% ABV.

2020– Arrrrrrrdbeg! is the Distillery’s first whisky wholly matured in ex-rye casks. Brought out in honour of Distillery Manager Mickey Heads, who is retiring 13 Years as Head Distiller. A blunderbuss of fruity flavours, 51.8% ABV.

2020– Ardbeg Blaaack is the feisty Limited Edition bottled in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Ardbeg Committee, founded in the year 2000. For the first time in Ardbeg’s history, they rounded up Pinot Noir casks from the country that lies the furthest distance from Islay – New Zealand. 46% ABV.

2021– Ardbeg 25 Years Old is the newest, oldest whisky to join the core range. This supreme expression proves unequivocally that age cannot tame Ardbeg’s smoky power. Bottled from incredibly rare casks filled during some of the Distillery’s darkest days, this is Ardbeg at its most intricate, balanced and beguiling. Ardbeg 25 Years Old is a single malt that was distilled in the 1990s before being bottled after 25 years of maturation. Although the whisky is part of the brand’s core range, it will be available in limited quantities due to its age, starting January. 46% ABV

2021–Ardbeg Scorch: Released on Ardbeg Day at the Feis Ile to celebrate Ardbeg Day 2021 and Islay’s definitely-real-and-totally-not-made-up flavour breathing dragon, Ardbeg Scorch is a dram with an almost mythical flavour profile.

Ardbeg Uigeadail vs. Corryvreckan

Uigeadail: single malt Scotch, Islay, 54.2%, $85
Corryvreckan: single malt Scotch, Islay, 57.1%, $95

When the mothballed Ardbeg distillery was bought and restarted by Glenmorangie in 1997, there were stocks of whisky from two distinct periods in the warehouses; the early 1970’s through March of 1981 and mid-1989 through mid-1996. The latter period was limited to two months of production per year. The new owners would also have the whisky they began producing themselves from mid 1997 onward as that spirit came of age. Production methods differed for each of these three periods giving three distinct styles of Ardbeg that would shape the evolution of the brand’s offerings for years to come.

The only bottlings put out by Ardbeg in 1997, 1998 and 1999 were their 17 year old and a series of vintage releases dated to the mid 1970’s. The 17 year is often said to be made up solely of distillate from 1980 and 1981, but a quote is attributed to Glenmoranie’s Dr. Bill Lumsden stating that the 17 year also contained distillate laid down between 1975 and 1977.

The 17 year old and the 1970’s vintage bottlings continued on until 2004, but they were joined by a new 10 year old offering in 2000. This bottling was the first use of whisky from the period of limited production between 1989 and 1996.

Another annual release was started in 2001; Lord of the Isles was a vatting of whiskies from 1976 and 1977. It was part of the lineup until 2007 and much like the 17 year, its label stayed the same but the whisky grew older with each subsequent bottling. It was deliberately kept in short supply, driving prices through the roof.

The next significant addition to Ardbeg’s lineup was Uigeadail, which first appeared in 2003. It was described at younger bourbon barrel aged whisky vatted with much older sherry cask matured whisky.

Then there was a series of bottlings which tracked the progress of the whisky that the new owners began distilling in 1997. First was Very Young in 2004 which was followed by Still Young in 2006, Almost There in 2007 and finally Renaissance in 2008.

There were two very limited releases of lightly peated, cask strength Ardbeg Kildalton. The one in 2004 was distilled in 1980 and put into 700 ml bottles. The 2005 release was distilled in 1981 and only bottled in miniatures.

The Airigh Nam Beist
The next addition to Ardbeg’s standard lineup was called Airigh Nam Beist. It was bottled for three years, 2006, 2007 and 2008, but all of them were vintage dated to 1990. Many people viewed Airigh Nam Beist as a replacement for the iconic 17 year.

At some point in 2008 the flagship 10 year old was transitioned from distillate produced between 1989 and 1996 to distillate produced from 1997 onward. There was a change in the label design mid way through 2008 that is generally considered to indicate when the transition took place, but some people claim to have tasted the change in the flavor profile several months before the labels were modified.

Another lightly peated release called Blasda was bottled in 2008, 2009 and 2010. It was non-age stated, but said to be about 7 years old.

Corryvreckan was the next addition to the lineup, arriving in 2009. Upon its introduction it was touted as the replacement for Airigh Nam Beist. This bottling is aged in a combination of French oak and American oak ex-bourbon barrels. It is non-age stated but said to be in the 10 to 12 year range (making it all from post-1997 distillate).

There is some conflicting information about the French oak aged portion of Corryvreckan. It was actually first seen as an Ardbeg Committee bottling in 2008 using first-fill French oak casks (either Burgundy or Bordeaux casks, both have been mentioned). Most reputable sources now state that Corryvreckan uses new French oak rather than first-fill French oak (along with the bourbon aged component). Was this was a gradual transition over a few years or a sudden change when it became part of the regular lineup? The bottle of Corryvreckan 2009 seems to show little if any wine cask influence. The distillery stated that Corryvreckan was aged in toasted new French oak.

The limited releases have continued from Ardbeg as well. There was the more heavily peated (100+ ppm) Supernova in 2009 and 2010. Also released in 2010 was Rollercoaster; a vatting of the first ten years (1997-2006) of the new owners’ production. Next, in 2011, was Alligator; a vatting of ex-bourbon barrels and heavily charred, new American oak barrels. 2012 saw the release of Galileo, which was distilled in 1999 and aged in a combination of bourbon and Marsala casks.

Recent years have also seen wider releases of the annual festival bottlings from Ardbeg; Ardbeg Day (2012), Ardbog (2013), Auriverdes (2014), Perpetuum (2015), Dark Cove (2016), Kelpie (2017) and Grooves (2018).

With all of these limited releases and changes to the core lineup, it can be pretty tough to keep track of what was bottled when at Ardbeg. And that has led to The Ardbeg Project. This privately run website attempts to catalogue all official Ardbeg releases by their corresponding bottle codes and provide additional information when possible.

In the case of Uigeadail, the Ardbeg Project is particularly helpful. When it was first bottled in 2003, the sherry cask component of Uigeadail was distilled in the 1970’s and aged to about 25 years. There is no information about the age of the bourbon barrel component of the early bottlings of Uigeadail, other than the generalisation of it as being “young”. At that time though, most of the limited production from the 1989-1996 period was probably being used for the 10 year old, so it stands to reason that the bourbon barrel aged whisky in Uigeadail would have been distilled after the facility was restarted in mid 1997 and at about 6 years old.

Of course, with limited stocks of whisky from the 1970’s which were becoming increasingly more valuable as time marched on, it was inevitable that the recipe for Uigeadail would change. The change in recipe was confirmed by an employee at the distillery in 2012.

More detail of Uigeadail’s changing formula can be found in this 2013 interview with Dr. Bill Lumsden (at the 23 minute mark), where he states “I’ve tried to gradually drift the recipe to a more appropriate age profile”. Other blogs state that the most highly regarded bottlings came from 2003 through 2009, and the most noticeable change happened across 2010, 2011 and 2012. 

It’s said that the sherry cask component accounts for 35% to 45% of Uigeadail, and that the percentage hasn’t really changed over the years. Having youthful, bourbon barrel aged whisky in the mix is part of what makes this bottling what it is, so that component has remained around the 6 year mark. Remember though, during the 1989-1996 period production was limited and intended for blending, so there was probably little if any sherry cask whisky from that time available for Uigeadail. The biggest shift of the sherry cask component to 1997 and newer distillate likely took place across 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Over the course of 10 years, the sherry matured component of Uigeadail has drifted down in age from roughly 25 years to around 15 years. Not only that, but it has also transitioned across three distinct periods of Ardbeg’s history, each with its own style of distillate.

The Uigeadail Today:
The nose is sharp and biting. It almost seems astringent at first but shows its true nature upon more cautious inspection; dense, chewy peat smoke aromas are intertwined with dry, nutty, oxidised sherry notes. The palate shows incredible depth and complexity. While the peat smoke is the most obvious element, there’s so much more going on along with it. There’s a gingerbread-like maltiness, mint and wide range of spice notes. The sherry fruit character is dark and moderately dry, with a hint of nuttiness. A touch of brine rounds out the flavor profile. The lengthy finish evolves without losing balance and maintains a good level of grip even as it fades.

The Corryvreckan:

There are some nice aromas on the nose, but a healthy dose of alcohol riding along with them. The peat smoke is somewhat light and floral in character and is accompanied by some subtle tree fruit and tropical fruit notes. There is less heat and aggressiveness on the palate than expected considering its nature on the nose. Notes of dry spice and leather come to the fore and add complexity to the smoke of driftwood burning on a beach. A bit of earthiness and a subtle stone fruit element come into play as well. The finish is long and warming, with a building spice element and lingering peat notes.

Comparing Uigeadail and Corryvreckan to the 10 YO, the last-named's peat smoke stands out more on the palate. But then, the other two have wider ranges of accompanying flavour elements. True, the Corryvreckan stands nicely on its own, but it simply pales in comparison to the Uigeadail.
The pecking order then:

Ardbeg Provenance
Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist
Ardbeg Uigeadail
Ardbeg Corryvreckan
Ardbeg Ardbog 
Ardbeg Supernova
Ardbeg Kildalton 
Ardbeg 10 YO 

Having said that, the Ardbeg that gives you best value for money is the Ardbeg Ten. Keep a bottle around as your 'go to' dram. 

The Corona pandemic has shaken this industry in much the same fashion as it did the world. Even so, I think that this post has become too long to continue. I have continued the story from where I leave off here; you can go there directly using this link.


About this site

There are a lot of people writing about whisky. There are a few people that write independent reviews. If you have to believe the first category, there are only excellent whiskies. That just is not true. There are a lot of excellent whiskies yes. As there should be because whisky today is expensive! But there is a lot of indifferent product and some stuff is just not good enough. There is a clear need for independent reviewers. I am one of them. I have nothing to do with the industry. I don't sell anything. I don't have the perfect Palate. My opinion is as good as yours! I just taste whiskies and tell you what I think about them. That's all. 

Wednesday 3 May 2017



The Laphroaig distillery is arguably the most famous distillery on Islay, the island famous for its pungent, peaty malts. It was a bestseller in the US during the infamous Prohibition days, January 1920-December 1933, when it was imported as medicinal alcohol and sold on a doctor's prescription. 

Laphroaig was 'officially' founded in 1815 but rumour has it that the brothers Alexander and Donald Johnston actually built it around 1810 when they started farming in the area. The first official registration of the distillery wasn't until 1826. The distillery remained in the Johnston family until 1954 when Ian Hunter left it to one Bessie Williamson.

The Johnston family provides a link between Laphroaig and another distillery on Islay: Tallant. It is long gone now (closed in 1852), but it was owned by another branch of the Johnston family. In those days, people still married their nephews & nieces, so after a marriage Laphroaig & Tallant were owned by the same family for a while. Ian William Hunter was a member of the Johnston family as well. 

He started working at Laphroaig in 1908 and remained there until his death in 1954. Ian Hunter had no descendants, so he left the distillery to his secretary, Elisabeth ('Bessie') Williamson. Bessie was the first female distillery manager on Islay (and quite probably in all Scotland); she managed Laphroaig until her retirement in 1972. 

Laphroaig stands on the 'grave' of another distillery in the Kildalton area of Islay. Unlike the aforementioned Tallant distillery, the Ardenistle distillery (Ardenestiel or Aredenistiel) was located right next to Laphroaig. It was founded in 1837 by Andrew & James Stein - but it was discontinued again just a decade later, around 1848. The remains are now part of the Laphroaig distillery. 

The Islay Festival is great way to know the distilleries, the island and its inhabitants. Every distillery on the island releases one or more ' festival bottlings' each year, and those from Laphroaig are usually excellent - and relatively affordable too.

Laphroaig produces a great number of NAS expressions. Almost 75% of their brands are less than 12 years, with the Select as young as 5.5 years! The age of Laphroaig's brands is usually 10 years. The list below gives the prices of their NAS bestsellers. My personal choice is the Lore, said to be the richest ever Laphroaig! Named after the skills passed down over the generations, this permanent addition to the range is matured in a combination of casks including first fill Sherry butts and quarter casks and is said to contain some of their "most precious stock".

-Laphroaig PX Cask NAS £54  The three types of barrels used in the maturation each impart a subtly different character, from American oak to Quarter Cask to Pedro Ximenez sherry. The last maturation in the ex-PX Cask provides the rich, sweeter and full bodied notes which perfectly complement the peat-smoke tang of Laphroaig.

-Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 NAS £56  A limited edition malt to celebrate friendship (“Cairdeas“ in Gaelic). This 2016 bottling features fully-matured Laphroaig aged in ex-bourbon barrels before being artfully married together for a second maturation in Madeira seasoned traditional hogsheads.  

-Laphroaig Brodir NAS· £112.65 For this expression, the Islay distillers first matured the whisky in ex-bourbon barrels before transferring it over to casks which previous held Ruby Port. The combination of Laphroaig's classic coastal peaty gorgeousness with the elegance of the Ruby Port finish make Brodir a very handsome dram indeed.

-Laphroaig Triple Wood NAS· £62.5 This is an incredible new release from Laphroaig, originally launched for the duty free market, and it is a tour de force from the Islay distillery. First they mature this in bourbon barrels, before transfer into quarter casks, and a third maturation in Oloroso sherry European oak butts.

-Laphroaig Quarter Cask NAS· £49.3 Released in 2004, this bottling was aged for around five years before being finished in a quarter cask for several months, the size of the cask is quite small, thus does not require such a long maturation. This remains a truly great achievement from Laphroaig.

-Laphroaig Four Oak NAS· £48.46 features a marriage of whisky matured in a quartet of casks, namely ex-bourbon barrels, quarter casks, virgin American oak barrels and European oak hogsheads. Somewhat on the lines of their popular Triple Wood expression.

-Laphroaig QA Cask NAS· £48.45 initially matured in ex-bourbon barrels before ensuring a finishing period in charred American white oak casks. With this finishing period paired with Laphroaig's classically intense flavour profile, you might expect a massively in-your-face dram, but the result is very well-balanced between coastal smoke and sweet, chewy vanilla notes. The name comes from the Latin phrase 'Quercus Alba', meaning white oak.

-Laphroaig The 1815 Legacy Edition NAS· £93.6 created by Distillery Manager John Campbell in honour of the members of the Laphroaig team that have been producing the much-adored whisky on Islay over the years. This expression features whisky aged in first-fill bourbon barrels and new European oak hogsheads.

-Laphroaig Select NAS 51.15  For the Laphroaig Select, the Islay distillery has taken whisky from a number of different types of cask, including Oloroso Sherry butts, white American oak, Pedro Ximenez seasoned hoggies, Quarter casks and first fill bourbon casks. Quite a "selection", wouldn't you say? A laid-back addition to the Laphroaig core range of single malts.

-Laphroaig An Cuan Mòr NAS· £96  For the An Cuan Mòr, which means 'Big Ocean' in Gaelic, the whisky is initially matured in first-fill American white oak bourbon barrel and then finished in European oak casks.