Hugh Smith’s let­ter from Is­lay

The Oban Times - - News - Hugh Smith, 4 Flora Street, Bow­more, Is­lay PA43 7JX. Tel: 01496 810658.

Ard­beg Dis­tillery

ARD­BEG DIS­TILLERY is one of the three sim­i­lar es­tab­lish­ments to be found in the Kil­dal­ton district and on the south east coast of Is­lay.

It was of­fi­cially founded by lo­cal farmer and dis­tiller John MacDougall, whose fam­ily was to play a long and vi­tal role in the his­tory of the is­land dis­tillery.

In 1838 Ard­beg was bought for £1,800 by the Glas­gow spirit mer­chant Thomas Buchanan but con­tin­ued to be man­aged by the MacDougall fam­ily.

In the 1850s it was run by sis­ters Mar­garet and Flora MacDougall who were prob­a­bly Scot­land’s first lady dis­tillers. Also in­volved was Colin Hay, whose fa­ther had been coach­man to Wal­ter Fred­er­ick Camp­bell, the is­land’s prin­ci­pal landowner.

Fol­low­ing the sis­ters’ deaths, the Hay fam­ily took over the reins and their names be­came syn­ony­mous with the dis­tillery and the sur­round­ing Ard­beg district – the Gaelic name refers to ‘the small promon­tory’.

By the early 1900s the vil­lage was home to around 40 fam­i­lies and had its own pier and school, which had close on 100 pupils.

The whisky writer and trav­eller Al­fred Barnard vis­ited Ard­beg dis­tillery in 1886 and re­ported that ‘it was one of the most in­ter­est­ing on the is­land’ with an an­nual whisky out­put of 250,000 gal­lons which made it the most pro­duc­tive of all the Is­lay dis­til­leries,

Fol­low­ing the Hay ten­ure, which was not with­out its tribu­la­tions, it was pur­chased in 1922 for £19,000 by Alex MacDougall and Co., and with this ac­qui­si­tion a link with the found­ing fam­ily was re- es­tab­lished.

Sadly, this pur­chase did not fare well and in 1959 the MacDougall com­pany went into liq­ui­da­tion and re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of the Ard­beg Dis­tillers Com­pany.

In 1973 it came un­der the joint con­trol of the Dis­tillers’ Com­pany Ltd, (the DCL), and the Cana­dian- owned Hi­ram Walker and Sons. Hi­ram Walker took over full own­er­ship in 1877 and four years later the dis­tillery was moth­balled. This re­sulted in the loss of 18 jobs which had a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on the com­mu­nity.

A bleak pe­riod fol­lowed be­fore it was taken over Al­lied Dis­tillers which also had in­ter­ests in nearby Laphroaig Dis­tillery. Pro­duc­tion restarted on a very lim­ited ba­sis with very mixed re­sults and this brought the shut­ters down for a sec­ond time in 1996.

One year later Ard­beg was bought by Glen­morangie plc, now un­der the um­brella of the French lux­ury group Louis Vuit­ton Moet Hen­nessy, which in­vested £7mil­lion in a com­plete re­fur­bish­ment pro­gramme lead­ing to a re­sump­tion and a no­table in­crease in pro­duc­tion.

The im­prove­ments and ren­o­va­tions saw the in­tro­duc­tion of the Kiln Café and the vis­i­tors’ cen­tre which helped to ce­ment the dis­tillery as a ma­jor tourist at­trac­tion.

Awards and rec­om­men­da­tions fol­lowed and their var­ied whisky se­lec­tion gleaned in­ter­na­tional praise and pres­tige. Whisky Mag­a­zine was de­lighted to name Ard­beg as its ‘dis­tillery of the year’ and the Scot­tish Tourist Board was happy to grade it as a four-star vis­i­tor at­trac­tion. There were fur­ther cel­e­bra­tions in 2015 when the is­land dis­tillery marked its bi­cen­te­nary. And we can be sure that founder John MacDougall was very much there in spirit!

Top pupil

HIGH PRAISE in­deed must go the Romy Mitchell who is this year’s dux at the Is­lay High School.

The Gaelic-speak­ing Bow­more school­girl was the wor­thy re­cip­i­ent of the Lady Mar­gadale and Gilchrist dux medals at the celebration of achieve­ments cer­e­mony in the school’s assem­bly hall on June 16.

The dux medal­list spent her early years in the La­gavulin district and lessons be­gan for her at the Gaelic Medium Ed­u­ca­tion unit at­tached to the Bow­more pri­mary school.

All wish Romy well as she con­tin­ues her stud­ies at Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity where she plans to grad­u­ate in math­e­mat­ics.

Guest speaker at the achieve­ments cer­e­mony was former pupil Peter MacLel­lan whose man­age­rial skills are much in ev­i­dence at his fam­i­ly­owned Bow­more Ho­tel.

Ard­beg Dis­tillery was founded by farmer and dis­tiller John MacDougall.

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