Islay distillery Ardbeg has released The Rollercoaster, a limited edition duo of single malts distilled in the 1980s.
The two whiskies are taken from turbulent times in the distillery’s history, with the intention of capturing the brand’s highs and lows.
One was distilled in March 1981, when the distillery closed, and the other in October 1989, when it was reopened under new ownership.
Ardbeg was founded in 1815 but, in the 1970s, when blended whiskies became more popular, only a few casks each year were set aside to be matured as single malt.
Created two weeks before the distillery’s closure, The Rollercoaster’s first whisky comes from the final cask remaining from the 1981 stock.
This 42-year-old expression was created from Ardbeg’s own heavily peated malt (up to 110ppm) blended with lightly peated malt, used at the distillery only for a very short period.
It was aged in Bourbon casks and then transferred into a single oloroso Sherry cask to create ‘rich, spicy’ notes. It has an ABV of 47.3%.
The second whisky has an ABV of 45.3% and is one of the distillery’s final casks from 1989, which was distilled just weeks after production restarted.
By then, malt was supplied by Islay’s Port Ellen Maltings, as it is today – although the peating level was lowered to 30-35ppm.
After an initial maturation in Bourbon casks, the 33-year-old whisky was later reracked into a single refill Bourbon cask to enhance its ‘subtle’ peated style.
CEO Caspar MacRae said: “From our distillery’s most perilous low come two unrepeatable bottlings that 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 collectable 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.”
The two bottles are packaged in a presentation box created from solid Scottish oak by designer John Galvin.
Only 143 sets are available, with an RRP of €100,000 (US$107,167). They are available to buy through Moët Hennessy’s private client channel.
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.”
Last year, an ultra-rare Ardbeg single malt whisky cask sold for US$19 million, thought to be a record.
Whisky writer Charles Maclean 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.”
This summer, Ardbeg launched a collection of ‘experimental’ single malts matured in cask types that are new to the distillery.