Ardbeg is located on the South coast of Islay near the village of Port Ellen. The name Ardbeg is derived from the Gaelic term Taigh-stail Àirde Beaga, which roughly translates as ‘little hill’. The distillery is one of three which are located on the South coast of Islay, the other two being Lagavulin (1 mile down the road) and Laphroaig (a further mile down the road).
While the official year of establishment is said to be 1815, records indicate that a distillery with the same name was founded in 1794 by Alexander Stewart. Whisky production commenced in 1798 and in that same year, the MacDougall family were actively producing on the site. Duncan MacDougall would eventually become a licensee of Ardbeg.
The distillery was officially founded in 1815 by Duncan MacDougall’s son, John, and was run by him until 1853, when it was passed on to his sisters Flora and Margaret MacDougall. The sisters were assisted by Colin Hay, who eventually took over the running of the distillery upon the death of the sisters.
The distillery was under the control of Colin Hay and Alexander Wilson Gray Buchanan from 1888 to 1900, when control passed on to Hay’s son. A limited company, Ardbeg Distillery Ltd, was founded in 1959 and in 1973, the distillery was jointly purchased by Hiram Walker and Distillers Company Ltd (DCL, the predecessor of Diageo) through the Ardbeg Distillery Trust for £300,000.
The distillery was known for malting its own barley on site for its whisky up till 1974, when the last bottlings which included barley malted in house were released for sale. After 1974, the malted barley was primarily sourced from the nearby Port Ellen maltings facility and has continued to this day.
Hiram Walker then assumed full control in 1977 and the Ardbeg maltings were officially closed. The distillery continued operations until March 1981, when it was mothballed. In 1987, Allied Lyons initiated a takeover of Hiram Walker and their whisky portfolio, which included Ardbeg.
The distillery resumed production in 1989 and continued until 1996. During this time, all malted barley was sourced from the Port Ellen maltings facility. However, this revival was to be shortlived as the distillery’s future was once again put in doubt when it was mothballed and put up for sale in 1996 by Allied Distillers (which changed its name from Allied Lyons).
Thankfully, the distillery was purchased in 1997 for £7 million by Glenmorangie PLC, the producers of the Glenmorangie brand of single malt whiskies. In celebration of the purchase, the distillery released the 17 Years Old and Provenance bottlings. Glenmorangie PLC committed to raising the profile of the distillery and built a new visitor centre, which was opened in 1998.
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