One of nine working distilleries on the island of Islay, Ardbeg stands tall as one of the most illustrious and bold names in whisky. While they may be named after the anglicised Scottish Gaelic for ‘little height’, and now are the second smallest distiller on the island, there is nothing small about the Ardbeg brand; their enormous global following and record trading prices are testament to this.

As with many Scottish distilleries, although Ardbeg was formally founded in 1815 when the McDougall family gained a licence, records show that illicit distilling was taking place on this site for more than twenty years prior. Whisky was in its a heyday at the end of the 19th Century, with Ardbeg producing more than 1 million litres per year in 1887. The following 100 years however saw a turbulent period of decline and mismanagement, before the operation almost entirely closed in 1981 and again in 1991.

Ardbeg had already captured the hearts of many whisky lovers by this point with its heavily peated style and unique citrus character. Something so special could not be left to ruin for too long, and the distillery was thankfully revived through its purchase by Glenmorangie in 1997. A blinding set of successes followed suit, and just the following year Ardbeg was voted Distillery of the Year by leading American spirits publication Malt Advocate. The special site’s second coming was here, and the accolades and international attention haven’t stopped since.

Riding high

In the last decade, Ardbeg whiskies have won titles including World Whisky of the Year, Scotch Whisky of the Year and World’s Best Single Malt to name a few. The ambitions of the distillery even took them off solid ground, with the world’s first whisky experiment on the International Space Station being undertaken by Ardbeg between 2011 and 2014. Riding high on the current whisky boom, Ardbeg have set unprecedented records at auction for their casks and single bottles: a 31-year-old bottle of Single Cask Ardbeg #2742 sold for £35,000 ($41,031) at auction. And of course, we all held our breath at the £16 million 1975 Ardbeg cask sale of last summer.

The global attention on casks is greater than ever, and Ardbeg are some of the most desirable. Rocketed by the aforementioned sale, the future looks bright; in the coming years, Ardbeg will likely become a name to rival The Macallan and Springbank in terms of sheer demand and appreciation. This is looks especially true in the Asian markets, and China specifically.

Currently casks of 30 years, with good pedigree, can go for anything starting at £500,000. According to our estimates and projections, if such a casks reaches 40 years of age, it could yield returns of up to 250%. There are examples on the market of 40-year-old bottled casks trading at £10,000 per bottle.

Ardbeg conveys the character of Islay like no other. In fact, their distillates of the late 1960s and 1970s are often considered some of the truest expressions of the island ever made. Ardbeg have risen from the ashes – and no finer, more impressive or in-demand phoenix could have come from them.

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