The Rollercoaster: Ardbeg releases whisky from irreplaceable stock

The Rollercoaster: Ardbeg releases whisky from irreplaceable stock

Uniting irreplaceable stock from the distillery’s most turbulent time, Ardbeg has released a set of two whiskies called The Rollercoaster.

Contained within 143 sets, these two rare cask single malts are time capsules of a bygone Ardbeg and are priced at £85,000.

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. 

Dr Bill Lumsden. Credit: Martin Scott Powell for Ardbeg

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 25 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 in October 1989, to begin a brave new chapter.

Created just two weeks before the Distillery’s closure, The Rollercoaster’s first whisky is from the very last cask remaining from the stock of 1981. 

Ardbeg Distillery Warehouse from the 1970s.

This 42-year-old bottling is very lightly peated in character. It was aged in bourbon casks, then transferred into a single Oloroso sherry cask for rich, spicy notes.

Celebrating Ardbeg’s 1989 revival, The Rollercoaster’s second whisky is one of the Distillery’s final casks left from that year. 

Distilled on 6 December, just weeks after production restarted, the 33-year-old Ardbeg was matured in bourbon casks, then transferred into a single refill bourbon cask.

The distillery was closed again in 1996, yet saved from extinction a year later and now has a near-cult global following.

‘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,’ said Ardbeg’s Director of Whisky Creation, Dr Bill Lumsden.

‘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. 

Ardbeg Distillery from the 1980s

‘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.’

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