9/10 cats

We’ve had plenty of visitors prowling the Distillery this past year...


Recently, a gang of Ardbeg alley cats invaded, leaping out of bins and taking refuge in the malt barns. These mischievous cats became infamous for slinking out and startling visitors. But it wasn’t just cats amongst the visitors… they were amongst the chickens too.


The mystery of scattered chicken bones from the ARDstream food truck in the courtyard had long been troubling us. Foxes? Eagles? Shortie? Mystery solved. The cats were behind it (literally). Thankfully, our chef came to the rescue. In an act of kindness we’re dubbing ‘Catatouille,’ she adopted nine of them, taking them home with her or finding them new homes to go to. One playful ginger kitten remained hiding in the casks until very recently when she was adopted by an Islay lady, who took him in and named him Garfield.


Ardbeg’s chef wasn’t the only one who embraced our furry friends this year. John, a Carntyne lorry driver, became so besotted with a stray at Kennacraig ferry terminal that he took to feeding it on every trip from the mainland. The love is reciprocated by this little black cat as it wanders the lorries, searching for John’s cab, only accepting food from him!

Another heavy one

We welcomed another cluster (the official collective noun) of physicists back to the Distillery for the 2023 Heavy Flavours event. Thirty leading experts from the worldwide ‘heavy flavour physics’ community were warmly received for a day of tours, food, and whisky-fuelled debate.


Heavy flavour physics isn’t just a phrase coined by Ardbeg-loving boffins, it’s a real term originating from the heaviness of an elemental particle, which is studied at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Well, if you’re choosing a mascot for a scientific pursuit such as this, you can’t go wrong with Ardbeg.


The group initially visited us in 2016 because one of its members, Professor Alex Lenz, was a huge Ardbeg fan. His particular interest lay in our Supernova bottlings, as their intense, heavy flavour suited his scientific experiments.


He said, “The hospitality of Jackie and the Ardbeg Team was outstanding, and the remoteness of Islay sparked many deep discussions and ideas among the scientists. Thank you for everything!


We hope to see them all again soon and we assure everybody in the community that our work in the field of heavy flavour continues.

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Pulling a rabbit out of a hatchback

At the start of 2023, the Distillery purchased a top-of-the-range electric vehicle. Despite its high spec, the vehicle encountered some issues, breaking down twice. As you might expect, electric vehicle engineers are hard to come by on Islay.

The car sat idle in the car park until eventually, Emma McGeachy, Facilities Coordinator at the Distillery, popped the bonnet under the watchful eye of a mainland engineer. To their surprise and shock, an enormous rabbit bounded out!

Best we stick to forklifts from now on.

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All in a day's work

‘Thank God it’s Friday’ is a phrase uncommon to us here at the Distillery. Our Fridays can be a tad more dread-inducing, with Wee Emma, as we call her, being wholly responsible for that!

Alongside her duties as a Tour Guide, she’s been particularly diligent in organising extracurricular activities. These activities, of course, serve only one purpose – to make Emma laugh.

Fright Fridays, as she calls it, is her latest initiative. Appearing in various masks and disguises, she has taken to leaping out on her colleagues. Behind bins, out of boxes, you name it – Wee Emma is probably lurking, ready to pounce with her phone camera primed. The Mashing and Stilling teams are forever on guard!

The theme of enjoying a chuckle at others’ expense continues with Confession Fridays. The Ardbeg Team are serial pranksters, but there are rules to this game. As the perpetrator, your involvement is a closely guarded secret. That is until Friday comes around, when we hold a confession session. All pranksters must fess up. These antics invariably take place at lunchtime, with Dugga being a repeat offender.

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Star-crossed lovers

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As the Distillery that brought you the world’s first whisky experiment in space, we know a thing or two about gravity. But falling? We’ll leave that to Marc and Sharon. As the first married couple on a commercial space flight, we found kindred spirits in these two when they came to visit us last year.

Sharon surprised Marc with a helicopter trip to Islay for his 75th birthday, followed by a tour, tasting and seafood buffet in the Chairman’s Study. We were honoured to have them both – space enthusiasts to space enthusiasts. We urged them to sign the end of one our casks to mark their visit, which they gladly did. That cask now sits proudly near the front of the warehouse.

In 2024, the intrepid duo will embark on another space adventure with a Blue Origin sub-orbital flight. However, our next trip to space will have to wait. Despite their protestations, they have informed us that they won’t be able to bring a bottle of Ardbeg on board to savour in microgravity.

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Badge of honour

For about five years now, there has been a very exclusive and hush-hush programme taking place within the Tour Guide Team. Headed up by Ron, we’ve been awarding special badges to Members we deem worthy. The criteria for entry is varied. But, as long as we think you show insane commitment to Ardbeg, you’re in.

They are normally awarded after a number of visits to the Distillery, and with only 200 badges available worldwide, it’s safe to say earning one puts you in rare company.

Here are the Committee members and frequent visitors to the distillery who ascended to this illustrious rank in 2023:

Think you have what it takes in 2024?

Our Committed Committee

If you’re wondering what insane commitment looks like, you might learn a thing or two from these Committee Members.

A miniature gesture goes a long way

Mark Vranken from Belgium doesn’t just visit, he orchestrates a family pilgrimage to Ardbeg twice a year. Last year, with his two sons in tow, he arrived at the Distillery with an incredible gift for us.


He brought back two miniature bottles of the iconic Ardbeg 17 Years Old and Ardbeg Provenance. These drops are hard to come by, so parting with them can’t have been easy. The Ultimate sacrifice!

Wear your whisky on your sleeve

We would also like to recognise Niklas Gulberg, Bosse Axelson and the guys from Wexiö Maltwhiskysällskap – a whisky club in Vaxjo, Sweden. They are truly committed supporters of Islay and Ardbeg and come to every Fèis Ìle... and sometimes in September!


Their insane commitment is taken a step further by Niklas. As one of the ONLY owners in the world of a custom-made Ardbeg leather jacket, he wears Ardbeg over his heart every day.

Islay meets Italia

Claudio Riva, dear friend of the Distillery, has been fulfilling one of the Committee’s most ancient functions. We’re going back a long way here, so we won’t blame you if you’re unfamiliar with the Committee’s Rules & Regs, but let’s remind ourselves…


Rules & Regulations: Section 2. Part 6.


“…Members are expected to actively pursue a serious and altruistic duty: to bring others into the Ardbeg fold.”


Well, Claudio, we doff our caps to you. Since 2020, Claudio has made great strides in recruiting members to the Whisky Club Italia. As part of the club, he brings large groups to Islay and, with his encyclopaedic knowledge, informs them of the wonders of The Ultimate Islay Malt.

Seeing double

Meet the Johnston twins, Kevin and David. Their Ardbeg journey began in the Distillery Visitor Centre kitchen. Having climbed the ranks to become Production Operators, the twins are well and truly part of the fabric here at Ardbeg. They even appeared in a Momentous Minutes dispatch as young’uns all the way back in 2004!


Speaking of young’uns, Kevin and his wife Dionne (former Ardbeg Tour Guide) welcomed Poppy and Emmy into the world a few years back. And yes, you guessed it… TWINS! On the other side of the brothership, David tied the knot at Ardbeg last year and is now expecting a little one with his wife, Ciorstaidh. Reports are saying it won’t be twins, but never say never!


Congratulations (times two) to them both and we hope they enjoy many more happy years at Ardbeg.

Jazz pianist Fergus McCreadie is a frequent visitor to Ardbeg. Hailing from the Highlands, his talents have garnered widespread acclaim, with list appearances, nominations, and award wins across the board. In 2022, he clinched both the Scottish Jazz Album of the Year and the Scottish Album of the Year. He was even shortlisted for the highly acclaimed Mercury Prize.


It turns out that Ardbeg and Islay are a source of inspiration for Fergus. We all know what Ardbeg tastes like, but have you ever wondered what it sounds like? Fergus did. A few years ago, Fergus composed a tune named ‘Ardbeg’ – a stunning ode to our whisky that masterfully captures the essence of Ardbeg. Every time he comes by, he does us all the honour of playing ‘Ardbeg’, filling the air with the soulful sounds of our Distillery. Fergus is a highly accomplished Ardbeggian, and we’d like to raise a toast to him for somehow making Ardbeg sound just as incredible as it tastes! This enchanting melody deserves to be savoured alongside a dram of your favourite Ardbeg. So, sit back, close your eyes, and let his dulcet tones transport you to Islay.

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In memory of Hamish 'Old Gow' Gillespie

In January last year, our Ardbeg family experienced a profound loss with the passing of Hamish Gillespie, affectionately known as ‘Old Gow’. For an incredible 25 years, Hamish dedicated himself to Ardbeg.

The star of many Ardbeg films, he offered up every ounce of passion to our whisky, leaving an indelible mark on the Distillery. A gentleman of the highest order, he and his wife Mary were known for their immense kindness, always greeting new Team Members with open arms.

The Gow had a calm, wise Islay way about him – a presence we’ll all miss deeply. We are privileged to retain Gow’s legacy in his son, Alex, AKA Wee Gow, who became Ardbeg’s Electrical Engineer in 2013. He follows in his father’s footsteps, and we hope he stays with us for as long as he did.

The Ardbeg All Islay Fund

In 2022, the Distillery successfully sold Ardbeg Cask No.3 for a record-breaking £16 million. Following the sale, Ardbeg established a £1 million fund to support community and environmental projects on Islay.


The Ardbeg All Islay Fund was set up in partnership with South Islay Development (SID) and invites projects and organisations to apply for support, with a total of £200,000 allocated each year for five years. In 2023, the fund’s inaugural year, we are delighted to announce that a total of 28 organisations across Islay were granted support.


From the Museum of Islay life to the Islay Pipe Band, so many have already benefitted from the fund. Each group, all with their own unique challenges, now have the funding to grow and strengthen our community in the future. For all residents of Islay, the funding applications for 2024 are now open and will be closing in March. There is certainly no shortage of creativity, imagination, and community spirit on the island, so we hope many more innovative groups and organisations will benefit from the opportunities of The Ardbeg All Islay Fund.


Ardbeg The Rollercoaster

Strap yourself in...

From our inception in 1815 to the present day, we’ve experienced many ups and downs. The booms and busts that punctuate Ardbeg’s story are what inspired the release of two historic whiskies last year.

Ardbeg The Rollercoaster honours our rollercoaster past in exquisite fashion. Created at pivotal moments in our history, these whiskies encapsulate the rarest liquid from the Distillery’s most turbulent times, capturing our lows and highs in 143 stunningly crafted cases.

The first whisky was distilled in 1981 when the Distillery closed, many fearing forever. Created two weeks before closure, this 42-year-old dram comes from the last cask remaining from that year’s stock. Aged in bourbon barrels, then transferred into a single Oloroso sherry cask for rich, spicy notes, it is an unrepeatable taste of Ardbeg’s past.

Celebrating Ardbeg’s 1989 revival, The Rollercoaster’s second bottle is also from one of the Distillery’s final casks remaining from that year. First matured in bourbon casks, this whisky was later put into a single refill bourbon cask to enhance its subtly peated style. Aged for 33 years, its unique flavours capture a defining moment in the Distillery’s history.

As we roll into 2024, our best advice is to hold on tight!

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I verify that the minutes recorded here are correct and complete, and I am pleased to endorse their publication to Members of the Ardbeg Committee.

Jackie Thomson

Ardbeg Committee Chair

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She's one of our own

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A special announcement

Jackie, humble to a fault, has left it to me as your Distillery Manager to announce some incredible news on her behalf. Last year, our esteemed Committee Chair, Jackie Thomson, added to her growing list of achievements with her induction into Whisky Magazine’s Hall of Fame.

One of the highest honours in the business, they don’t make hall of famers out of just anybody! Around 8,000 days, 15,000 tours, and half a million visitors through our doors – those are the stats behind Jackie’s 27 years of service at Ardbeg. More than enough to merit a spot in the Hall of Fame, we think.

Jackie’s infectious enthusiasm for her role at Ardbeg has brought countless visitors to Islay from all corners of the globe. Of course, the fame hasn’t gone to her head as she was quick to remind us that there’s no ‘I’ in Ardbeg. I’m sure I speak for everybody on Islay and around the world when we say there is no person more deserving!

Congratulations to you, Jackie!

Colin Gordon

Ardbeg Distillery Manager