Ardbeg unveils limited edition inspired by Committee Corryvreckan release

Ardbeg unveils limited edition inspired by Committee Corryvreckan release

Ardbeg has used three French oak casks left over from the original Corryvreckan, bottled in 2008 as its first Ardbeg Committee exclusive, to create a new limited-edition single malt

News | 05 Jun 2024 | By Bethany Brown

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On Islay, an island literally lined with world-famous distilleries, Ardbeg is one of the most coveted. Its annual Ardbeg Day is not just a day in the Islay Festival programme and the culmination of the week’s whisky-related festivities, but a highlight of many an Islay whisky fan’s calendar.

 

The strength of climactic feeling in this celebration can be partly attributed to Ardbeg’s fiercely loyal following. Its members club the Ardbeg Committee — which will mark its 25th anniversary in 2025 — was one of the first whisky clubs of its kind, offering special bottlings and other perks to members. It now has more than 220,000 members around the world, with local chapters hosting their own meet-ups. Ardbeg Day is an opportunity for one and all to come together and celebrate the Ardbeggian spirit.

 

Jackie Thomson, Ardbeg visitor centre manager and chairman of the Ardbeg Committee, feels there is a the symbiotic relationship between the committee and the distillery's Fèis Ìle celebrations. “We have been dressing up for 20 years, but with the advent of Ardbeg Day in 2012 and people across the world interpreting it differently, we want people to feel very connected and do something that is real and true.”

Ardbeg Spectacular

This year’s Fèis Ìle release felt like a thoroughly ‘Ardbeg’ choice of theme: Spectacular, framed around dazzling circus acts and the ‘balance’ required in acrobatic performance. Its most notable feature was that it was the first-ever Ardbeg release to feature port casks in its maturation. The final blend was 40 per cent ex-bourbon and 60 per cent ex-port, with distillery manager Colin Gordon noting that balance was key in the use of these famously sweet and punchy wine casks. “The distillery character is absolutely there,” he says. “We want to make sure we get the influence of the port cask but that it doesn’t overpower the dram.”

 

In its novel maturation, Ardbeg Spectacular continues experimentations in process started through the distillery’s Committee-exclusive releases: Ardcore (2022) included heavily roasted malt in the mash bill; Fermutation (also 2022) was distilled from wash that underwent a three-week fermentation; and Heavy Vapours (2023) saw the distillery’s purifiers disconnected during distillation.

 

The ‘circus’ theme of Spectacular also provided ample inspiration for the organisation of this year’s Ardbeg Day, with many a ringleader- or clown-inspired costume to be seen alongside tutus, striped tights and trousers, and brightly coloured wigs. Hula-hooping entertainers circulated through the crowds, and the star attraction was a huge striped helter-skelter erected in the courtyard.

 

“From the DNA of that bottling, we bring it to life in a very different way,” Thomson says. “A newbie coming in the door who does not know much about Ardbeg will feel the personality of the distillery, and for people coming for the 20th or 30th or even the 80th time, [there is] that element of seeing something that they have not seen before and being with people, with their tribe.”

A flavour wheel on the side of the Abyss' unique case

Following Spectacular comes an even more remarkable limited edition. In celebration of the Ardbeg Committee’s upcoming anniversary, the distillery has unveiled an incredibly rare release: Ardbeg The Abyss. It has its roots in the first Ardbeg Committee-exclusive bottling, Corryvreckan, a 57% powerhouse of French oak spice and tannin which was released in 2008 and has since become a core-range whisky (albeit made to a slightly different recipe). The release takes its name from the fearsome Corryvreckan whirlpool off the Islay coast, which was supposedly named for a Viking prince who lost his life to the roiling pool while undertaking a challenge that would earn him the right to marry his beloved, a daughter of the Lord of the Isles.

 

The Abyss has been produced from three French oak casks that were left over from that original Corryvreckan bottling, which have now been matured for 34 years. It comes presented in a striking metal capsule, styled on an old-fashioned diver's helmet.

The comic book created by author and artist Tradd Moore to accompany the Abyss

As the Abyss continues the liquid legend of the original bottling, it will also continue the narrative of the legendary Prince Vreckan. Ardbeg partnered with American comic book author and artist Tradd Moore, who has created a comic book to accompany the whisky. It takes the story of the prince from the sea into space, showing him engaged in a thrilling intergalactic battle.

 

Moore says, “While nothing is truly timeless the best connection we have as people is the stories we tell about our own culture, our own people... I wanted to tap into the legend of Prince Vreckan but bring it to a new world.”

 

For David Blackmore, global brand ambassador for Ardbeg, being able to launch the Abyss was of particular personal significant as Corryvreckan is his favourite Ardbeg bottling. He says the distillery couldn’t replicate the experimentation that went into the first batch of Corryvreckan, but he does not view this as a negative. “We're such a storied old brand but we’re never looking back, [we are] always wanting to do something new and exciting,” he says.

A flavour wheel on the side of the Ardbeg The Abyss case

The excitement for Ardbeg this year is continuing past its bottlings and into bricks and mortar. Its owner, the Glenmorangie Company, purchased the Islay Hotel in Port Ellen in 2022 with plans to transform it into Ardbeg House. Following the template of the Glenmorangie House boutique hotel in Tain, which opened in 2022, Ardbeg House will be a hospitality venue that reflects the idiosyncratic character of the brand. The project will be led by interior design and restoration studio Russell Sage, which worked on Glenmorangie House as well as the Fife Arms in Braemar and LVMH’s Hine House. The Islay Hotel is expected to close in the next couple of months for renovation work to begin.

 

Thomson says, “We are going to instil a little bit of Ardbeggian personality into it. It is another place for people to come and experience Ardbeg and taste great whisky and taste great food. The rooms are going to pick up on little nuggets of the history of Islay. It is at the heart of the community and that is where it is going to stay.”

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