May 24, 2005

Enter the Marketdroids

Ardbeg distillery, as told in snatches by Emma the Taciturn Tour Guide.

Ardbeg was first licensed to produce alcohol (well, a farm owned on the site was) in 1815. Ardbeg has been owned by various companies, opened and closed down over the years - most recently, it was closed in 1980, sold in 1990 to a new firm and used to make only new (raw) spirits for blending, then sold to Glenmorangie PLC in 1997 and ramped up to produce actual whisky again. Glenmorangie was put up for sale in 2004 as a family company, and LVMH (Louis Vuitton blah blah) purchased the Glenmorangie distilleries (Glenmorangie, Glen Moray, Ardbeg) to add malt whisky to their stable of beverages. The distillery has been almost fully rebuilt since the 1980-1990 shutdown.

Random trivia:

  • They are approaching their maximum annual production of 1 megaliter.
  • The limiting factor is that they only have two stills, one wash and one spirit. Other distilleries with more stills have higher output.
  • The mill which crushes the peated barley to grist (there's only one) is a mechanical mill manufactured by a 'John Boby LTD in assoc. with VICKERS ENGINEERS LTD' around (they think) a hundred years ago. It was originally designed to mill flour; new rollers (metal rather than wood) and adjustments to the roller separation allow it to produce the rough grist rather than flour.
  • There are no spare parts for it, nor another mill. This mill is a single point of failure for the entire Ardbeg process. Once per year, they disassemble it, clean and maintain it, and bring it back online. It runs approximately thirteen times per week, processing 4.5 tons of barley per run in approximately 1 hr.
  • Only three distilleries still floor malt their barley - Laphroaig being one of them. The rest purchase their malted barley from the malting facility in Port Ellen. Ardbeg uses 60 tons of barley a week, all of which is shipped in via ferry.
  • This coming weekend, they will be selling the last remaining three barrels of 1975 Ardbeg from the warehouse, which have slept there through three or four owners and the ten-year hiatus from 1980-1990, and were just recently bottled. In 2010, the supply of thirty-year-old Ardbeg will run out, not to return until 2027 - assuming they save any of the 1997 barrels. They're in a bit of a crunch right now - the 'standard' bottle of Ardbeg is 10 years old, but the new production is really only seven or eight years along. In a couple of years, they'll be able to start selling the new stuff. They have a bottle called 'Very Young Ardbeg' - a six-year-old, the first barrels from the new distillery. I was warned, in strong English accent, by two older gentlemen in very polite, reserved terms that this was "firewater, and not to be trusted at all, sir."

I have purchased a bottle of the evilly-marketing-droid-named 'Serendipity.' The story they tell at the distillery is that several barrels of very old Ardbeg had been removed to a bottler's in (Glasgow?) to be packaged, and hence emptied into a holding tank for the bottling system. There was an oops, and someone emptied a quantity of Glen Moray into the same tank, ending up with an 80/20 mix of Ardbeg to Glen Moray. The Glen Moray is a highland malt, sweet and floral, and Ardbeg is...well...not. After (presumably) heads rolled, someone got around to drinking some of it (no doubt with a sorrowful mien, or possibly with a 'haha, look what we get for free!' mien) and it was...tasty.

Enter the marketdroids.

Hence, the Serendipity. It's a blend, technically - a blend of two single malts, 80/20. It's also pretty damn yummy, I think. They have (they claim) no plans to do it again, having had no plan to do it the first time, if you believe 'em - which I might, old Ardbeg being rare enough that mixing it on a marketer's say-so seems foolhardy when the stuff sells mighty well all by its lonesome. It's Ardbeg, but with a nice sweetness running through it - not quite as brickbat-to-the-head-peat as the usual stuff. So they have a couple thousand bottles...while I'm sure distributers in the U.S. can get it if they try, why the hell not?


Posted by jbz at May 24, 2005 9:38 PM | TrackBack

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