Finally getting to Ardbeg was an awesome thing, even though they're currently closed down and won't be restarting whiskymaking for a few weeks still. Today was also Saturday so the distllery tasting room and gift shop was also closed to the public. Luckily we had contacted distillery manager Mickey Heads in advance and, since he lives on site round the clock, he was happy to come over and give us a tour. Ardbeg has perhaps the most beautiful location of all the Islay distilleries with picturesque looks over the southern coast all the way to Ireland.
On a quiet peaceful day like this one, the water was calm (even though it's the ocean) and the lack of tourist groups coupled with the empty distillery made for quite a solitary mood, completely unlike the loud, expressive flavors of Ardbeg's whisky. Mickey took us on a complete tour of the facility and explained how Ardbeg is actually the second smallest distillery after Kilchoman, with its tiny barley mill and only two stills.
Everything about Ardbeg tastes like its location smells and feels. We went on a walk through the warehouses and Mickey pointed out how salty the air is coming off the water, causing the rings on the barrels to rust and deteriorate quickly. They have barrels going back as far as 1975 so make sure and watch out for that single barrel cask strength 36 year release we'll be coming out with soon (ha ha).
While we won't actually be barreling it, we did get to taste a little of it and Mickey made sure to bring the goods. Ardbeg used to be like Bruichladdich and Springbank, having single casks in the gift shop that visitors could come and bottle themselves. Sadly for us, the demand for Ardbeg has reached fanatical levels and people were coming in and buying everything they could, so they were forced to end what had been a fun bonus for enthusiasts. Mickey also pulled some samples from the warehouse for us to taste which were fun and exciting for Ardbeg lovers like us. Mickey is also quite a bourbon fan so we told him how we'd have to fly him out to California for some tastings. We think Mickey should be the next big Ardbeg celebrity after Bill Lumsden and Rachel Barrie, considering he's the one who's there all the time!
After concluding a wonderful visit with Mickey (who is a fantastic down to earth whisky fan just like the rest of us) we went a little further down the road to visit the fantastic 1300 year old Kildalton Cross with its early Christian carvings and biblical depictions. There is a bit of Twin Peaks-like eeriness to the place, which only made it cooler. There were sheep running free all over the place and David and I did our best to chase them!
Now we're back for our final night at the cotteges waiting to go have beers with Phil from Bowmore. We're going over some of the casks we've tasted and wondering how we're going to ever decide on so many good options!