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Ardbeg Dark Cove celebrates Islay's dark past

To celebrate the Islay Festival of Malt and Music taking place next month, Glenmorangie-owned whisky distillery Ardbeg is launching a limited edition expression, Dark Cove . . . as Ardbeg Day turns into Ardbeg Night.

Ardbeg’s island home has a dark past. Centuries ago, at the dead of night, the early distillers would smuggle their whisky from the rocky shores of Ardbeg cove, to black-painted ships moored off the coast, where it would be spirited away to the Scottish mainland.  This year, the shadowy history of Ardbeg’s homeland will be recalled as part of the annual festivities of the Islay single malt, when Ardbeg Day becomes Ardbeg Night.

The yearly celebration takes place on May 28, 2016, when Ardbeg’s loyal following – the Ardbeg Committee* – and their friends will be invited to attend a series of special tasting events being held at night across the world.  As they recall Islay’s past, Committee members can smuggle in a guest to the venue. Events in the UK will be held at Whistling Shop in London and Bramble in Edinburgh.

Michael (Mickey) Heads, Ardbeg distillery manager, says: “Distilling and smuggling whisky was once rife on Islay, and before the Ardbeg Distillery was founded, the coastline roundabout was particularly notorious as a hideout for smugglers. In true smugglers’ style we will be keeping the finer details of this year’s Ardbeg Day celebrations under wraps a little longer, but rest assured they will be as intriguing as Ardbeg’s clandestine past.  We will also have a special bottling, called Ardbeg Dark Cove – which pays homage to the shadowy past of Ardbeg’s coastline.”

Ardbeg’s latest single malt Scotch whisky expression, Dark Cove, bottled at 46.5% ABV and non-chill filtered, launches on Ardbeg Day (28th May). It is made up of whisky matured in sherry casks, married with hallmark ex-bourbon Ardbeg.

The limited edition expression will be available from 28th May 2016 at Ardbeg Embassies (a global network of retailers who love and have agreed to educate their consumers on Ardbeg) for a two week exclusive period. From June 11th, Dark Cove will also be available at whisky specialists and department stores with a RRP of £95.99.

Ardbeg Night will be celebrated at the distillery on Saturday 28th May 2016 and at participating Ardbeg Embassies around the world.

*Ardbeg Day:
Every year, the Islay Festival of Malt and Music takes place in May or June on Ardbeg’s island home.  On the Festival’s final Saturday, Ardbeg Day, the Distillery traditionally throws open its doors to welcome fans from all over the world.  In 2012 Ardbeg Day became a global event.  15,000 people attended 135 events around the world at the 2015 Ardbeg Day global celebrations.

Smuggling on Islay:
So substantial was the illicit whisky trade between Islay and the mainland, which Excise officers asked for a special Revenue cutter to be stationed off the island, to intercept the smuggler boats that sailed from Islay and elsewhere.  Even after John McDougall took out a licence to make whisky legally at Ardbeg, the smuggling continued.  The Excise officers complained that they could do little to stop it – but it appears to have largely died out during the late 19th Century.

Ardbeg prides itself on being The Ultimate Islay Single Malt Whisky.  Established in 1815, Ardbeg is revered by connoisseurs around the world as the peatiest, smokiest and most complex of all the Islay malts.  During the 1980s and 1990s, Ardbeg suffered from an uncertain future and it was not until the brand was purchased by The Glenmorangie Company in 1997 that the distillery was saved from extinction. 

Ardbeg Committee: The Committee is made up of thousands of Ardbeg followers worldwide who are keen to ensure that “the doors of Ardbeg never close again”. Committee members are regularly consulted on new bottlings and expressions, and are offered exclusive Committee bottlings.  Members also receive invitations to special gatherings, tastings and events.  The Committee is free to join at

19 April 2016 - Felicity Murray The Drinks Report, editor