Historic Whiskies Encapsulate Distillery’s Rollercoaster Past. Irreplaceable bottlings from the 1980s celebrate Ardbeg’s survival
Published Date: 14th November 2023
Ardbeg today releases two historic whiskies created at the most pivotal moments of the Islay single malt’s past. Uniting irreplaceable stock from the Distillery’s most turbulent time, Ardbeg The Rollercoaster uniquely captures its lows and highs. Contained within 143 sets, these two rare cask single malts are time capsules of a bygone Ardbeg. One was distilled in 1981 when the Distillery closed, many feared forever. The other in 1989, as its hope-filled revival began. Together, they embody the irrepressible spirit of Ardbeg, which has survived against the odds.
Founded in 1815 on the remote Scottish island of Islay, Ardbeg is famed for creating the world’s smokiest drams. But while this whisky is today revered around the world, its path has been strewn with challenges. In the 1970s, with fashion favouring blended whiskies, just a few casks each year were set aside to be matured as single malt. As a result, stock from that decade is exceptionally hard to come by. Then during the 1980s, the Scotch whisky industry suffered a downturn, which left Ardbeg in a perilous state. On 25th March 1981, the Distillery and on-site maltings closed, and it seemed the iconic name of Ardbeg might be lost for good. Over the next eight years, the Distillery stood silent, its future hanging in the balance. Eventually, as the outlook for Scotch improved, Ardbeg’s fortunes changed. And the Distillery re-opened under new ownership in October 1989, to begin a brave new chapter.
Created two weeks before the Distillery’s closure, The Rollercoaster’s first whisky is from the last cask remaining from the stock of 1981. This 42-year-old bottling was created from a blend of heavily peated malt (up to 110ppm) from Ardbeg’s own malting floors, as well lightly peated malt, only used at the Distillery for a very short period to create “Kildalton-style” Ardbeg. Aged in bourbon casks, then transferred into a single Oloroso sherry cask for rich, spicy notes, it is an unrepeatable taste of Ardbeg’s past.
Celebrating Ardbeg’s 1989 revival, The Rollercoaster’s second whisky is one of the Distillery’s final casks left from that year. It was distilled on 6th December, just weeks after production restarted. By then, malt was supplied by Islay’s Port Ellen Maltings. And to create spirit more suitable for blends, the peating level was lowered to 30-35ppm (today it is a minimum of 50ppm). After an initial maturation in bourbon casks, the whisky was later reracked into a single refill bourbon cask to enhance its subtle peated style. Aged 33 years, its unique flavours capture a singular moment in the Distillery’s history.
As its fans know well, however, Ardbeg’s tumult did not end in 1989 – and the Distillery closed again in 1996. Yet, saved from extinction a year later, it has gone from strength to strength. Ardbeg now has a near-cult following and is one of the highest-awarded smoky malts. Leaving its darkest days far behind, Ardbeg has shown itself to be among the world’s most collectible whiskies. And its core range has won legions of fans around the globe for its signature smoky and complex style.
CEO Caspar MacRae said: “From our Distillery’s most perilous low come two unrepeatable bottlings which take Ardbeg to new heights. Ardbeg The Rollercoaster shows just how far our Distillery has come since its uncertain past. Today, Ardbeg is one of the world’s most collectible whiskies. And as its fanbase continues to grow, we are more invested in our Distillery and our island community than ever before. We have built a new stillhouse to ensure the future of Ardbeg’s legendary smoky spirit, and we have recently invested in a well-known hotel on Islay, so we can create a world-class hospitality experience for residents and visitors alike. Here’s to the future of Ardbeg!”
Ardbeg’s Director of Whisky Creation, Dr Bill Lumsden, said: “Ardbeg The Rollercoaster is a unique opportunity for collectors to experience two very different tastes of Ardbeg’s heritage, and acquire a set of bottlings with an incredible story. The 1981 expression was made from some of the last malt ever to emerge from our maltings as Ardbeg teetered on the brink of closure. It is a beautiful combination of sweet and spicy sherried notes and hints of Ardbeg’s savoury side. Distilled soon after spirit flowed from the stills again, with a radically different malt, the 1989 is an equally singular Ardbeg. Classic notes of lime and vanilla combine with sea spray and very subtle, smoky tones. A snapshot of the contrasting spirits of those days, the time capsule whiskies of Ardbeg The Rollercoaster will go down in Ardbeg history.”
Whisky Expert and Writer, Charles Maclean, who tasted the whiskies with Dr Bill Lumsden, said: “The Rollercoaster’s two whiskies vividly embody the up-and-down fortunes of Ardbeg Distillery during the 1980s. With their rich historical provenance, intriguing stories and exceptional flavour, these rare, limited editions will be highly sought after by collectors.
“While these single malts are quite different to each other in taste and aroma, both are created from more lightly peated malt than the Ardbeg of today – and so have a gentler phenolic style. I find the 1981 whisky unusually mentholic and cooling, and the 1989 particularly elegant and reserved. Both are fascinating representations of highly significant years in Ardbeg's history.”
Beautifully encased in a presentation box crafted from solid Scottish oak by renowned designer John Galvin, Ardbeg The Rollercoaster’s 143 sets will be offered to collectors and connoisseurs through the Moët Hennessy Private Client channel, across the world.
To register interest in purchasing Ardbeg The Rollercoaster, visit Ardbeg Website or enquire at the Distillery Visitor Centre on Islay. Price on application.