Whisky Focus - Ardbeg The Rollercoaster £85,000 2 Bottle Set

Ardbeg The Rollercoaster £85,000 2 Bottle Set

14th November 2023
Ardbeg have unveiled, a rare 2 bottle set of single malts, one distilled in 1981 and the other in 1989. They are said to capture Ardbeg's rather turbulent times in the 1980's when the peaty whisky making distillery's future was not at all certain.

Ardbeg The Rollercoaster set 1981 and 1989 vintages.

The lucky Ardbeg fans amongst you may recall some stunning 1970's vintage Ardbeg bottling's released after the distillery was purchased and reopened by The Glenmorangie Company in 1997. Some of those 1970's bottling's are now legendary and if you are still lucky enough to have an unopened bottle they it will be worth a pretty penny today.

Fast forward to today and Ardbeg distillery has unveiled Ardbeg The Roller coaster, a 2 bottle set of 1980's vintage Ardbeg single malts with a eye watering price tag of £85,000 for the pair.

The two whiskies are said to capture Ardbeg's rather turbulent times in the 1980's when the peaty whisky making distillery's future was not at all certain. The whiskies were crafted during the most crucial junctures in the history of the Islay single malt. Blending irreplaceable stock from the Distillery's most tumultuous era, Ardbeg The Rollercoaster intricately captures both its moments of adversity and triumph. Limited to 143 sets, these two single malts serve as time capsules, preserving the essence of a bygone Ardbeg. One was distilled in 1981 during the Distillery's closure, a period many believed would be permanent. The other hails from 1989, marking the outset of its optimistic resurgence. Together, these whiskies embody the indomitable spirit of Ardbeg, a spirit that has endured and thrived against all odds.

Established in 1815 on the secluded Scottish isle of Islay, Ardbeg is renowned for producing the world's most intensely smoky whiskies. Despite its current global acclaim, the journey of this whisky brand has been marked by numerous challenges. In the 1970s, when blended whiskies were in vogue, only a handful of casks were set aside each year for maturation as single malts, making stock from that era exceptionally rare. The 1980s brought a downturn to the Scotch whisky industry, placing Ardbeg in a precarious position. On March 25, 1981, the Distillery and on-site maltings were shuttered, and the future of the iconic Ardbeg name appeared uncertain. The Distillery stood silent for the next eight years, teetering on the brink. Eventually, with the revival of Scotch prospects, Ardbeg's fortunes changed, and the Distillery reopened under new ownership in October 1989, heralding a new era.

Crafted just before the Distillery's closure, The Rollercoaster's inaugural whisky originates from the last cask of the 1981 stock. This 42 Year Old bottling blends heavily peated malt (up to 110ppm) from Ardbeg's malting floors with lightly peated malt, used briefly at the Distillery to create "Kildalton-style" Ardbeg. Aged in bourbon casks and then transferred to a single Oloroso sherry cask for rich, spicy notes, it is said to offer an unparalleled taste of Ardbeg's history.

To commemorate Ardbeg's resurgence in 1989, The Rollercoaster's second whisky is from one of the last casks distilled that year, on December 6, just weeks after production recommenced. The malt was supplied by Islay's Port Ellen Maltings, and to cater to blends, the peating level was reduced to 30-35ppm (compared to the current minimum of 50ppm). After initial maturation in bourbon casks, the whisky was reracked into a single refill bourbon cask to enhance its subtly peated style. Aged 33 years, its unique flavours encapsulate a pivotal moment in the Distillery's history.

Despite a closure in 1996, Ardbeg emerged from the brink of extinction a year later and has since flourished. Garnering a near-cult following, it stands as one of the most highly awarded smoky malts. Ardbeg, once in its darkest days, has proven itself among the world's most sought-after whiskies. Its core range has amassed a global fanbase, celebrated for its signature smoky and intricate character.

CEO Caspar MacRae said: "From our Distillery’s most perilous low come two unrepeatable bottlings which take Ardbeg to new heights. Ardbeg The Rollercoaster shows just how far our Distillery has come since its uncertain past. Today, Ardbeg is one of the world’s most collectible whiskies. And as its fanbase continues to grow, we are more invested in our Distillery and our island community than ever before. We have built a new stillhouse to ensure the future of Ardbeg’s legendary smoky spirit, and we have recently invested in a well-known hotel on Islay, so we can create a world-class hospitality experience for residents and visitors alike. Here’s to the future of Ardbeg!"

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

Encased in an exquisitely designed presentation box made from solid Scottish oak by the acclaimed designer John Galvin, Ardbeg The Rollercoaster's limited edition of 143 sets will be made available to collectors and connoisseurs worldwide through the Moët Hennessy Private Client channel. Price £85,000/ 100,000 Euro.

If that is a little out of your price range, not to worry you will find the current Ardbeg whisky range at a easier price on your pocket available f
rom specialist online whisky shops such as The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt

The Rollercoaster’s first whisky: Ardbeg Cask No.1 1981

This whisky was distilled 11th March 1981, from a rare union of malts. It was produced using a heavily peated malt (up to 110ppm) – some of the last ever made in Ardbeg’s own maltings – as well as very lightly peated malt, used to create “Kildalton-style” Ardbeg. This was produced at the Distillery owner’s maltings in Kilgour, Fife, in the east of Scotland, and only used at the Distillery from 1978-1981. This intriguing spirit was laid down bourbon barrels – some of the final casks filled before the Distillery closed on 25th March that year. The whisky was then transferred into a refill Oloroso sherry cask on 30th August 2006, to bring subtle sherried notes to its classically smoky style. It was bottled on 20th June 2023 at 47.3% ABV.

Producer's Tasting Notes:

Nose: A beautiful combination of Brazil-nut-flavoured toffee, orange syrup, linseed oil, the gentlest hint of woodsmoke, some touches of grilled asparagus and pepper, and a soft but distinctively savoury note like sourdough bread. A few drops of water releases more toffee notes, a touch of Viennese coffee and some distant herbs.

Taste: A rich, warming and peppery mouthfeel leads into a symphony of incredible flavours – soft burnished leather, aniseed, toffee, demerara sugar, and a gentle tarry smoke flavour. Then the spices appear: clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, with some soft, sweet malty biscuity notes.

Finish: Soothing and gentle, goes on forever, with a balanced combination of dates, toffee, leather and creosote.

The Rollercoaster’s second whisky: Ardbeg Cask No.17 1989

Distilled on 6th December 1989, this whisky was among the first single malt to be laid down after Ardbeg re-opened in October that year. With malt now supplied by Port Ellen maltings at 30-35ppm to make it more suitable for blending, its spirit was much more lightly peated than had formerly been traditional for Ardbeg – or is today. From 1989-1996, production was intermittent, as Ardbeg only operated for two months each year. This spirit was initially laid down in bourbon barrels, and transferred into a refill bourbon cask on 11th August 1999, to enhance its gently peated character. It was bottled on 20th June 2023 at 45.3% ABV.

Producer's Tasting Notes:

Nose: Sooty and drying, with wax crayons, fennel, mustard seed and toasting bread, along with that most distinctive of Ardbeg aromas, like pine resin or smoked lime skins. A splash of water releases a creaminess, with a gentle touch of vanilla and smoked pear, along with some briny sea spray.

Taste: A creamy and effervescent texture is followed by a burst of aniseed toffee, hints of smoked popcorn, smoked paprika and gentle, soothing antiseptic lozenges.

Finish: Tarry smoke is present and beautifully integrated with sweet vanilla and Viennese coffee.

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