Large coastal distillery complex, still in use and built from around 1815 with several later additions and alterations. The site has an early core forming a large courtyard with warehousing and other ancillary buildings (see separate listing LB52613) mostly located to the east and southeast. The listed buildings within the core complex are comprised of the east and west malt barns, east and west malt kilns, mash house and old filling store. Included in the listing is a stone pier and slipway to the south.
The old still house, new still house, boiler house, modern store and silos north of new still house, washback and effluents building, warehouse numbers 3, 9, 10, 10X, 11, new filling store and old boat house form part of the core and the periphery of the site but are excluded from the listing (see Section 2.2 below).
The early 19th century buildings are predominantly built in harl pointed rubble with some tooled ashlar dressings and most of the exterior walls are painted white. The roofs are mostly pitched and slated and some have modern sheet metal coverings. The kilns have an ogee-shaped and slated roof with a pagoda louvered apex vent (two pagodas on the east kiln and one pagoda on the west kiln).
The courtyard elevation of the malt barns is asymmetrical. There is a mixture of windows and openings, some are smaller and some are larger in the form of a doorway. There are metal wall ties present in both malt barns. Both malt barns have a forestair on the courtyard elevation, at the south end of the barns.
The southern range, between the malt barns and projecting from the south end of the west kiln barn, contains the mash house and adjoining old filling store. One to two-storey in height, of similar construction and general appearance to the malt barns.
The interior (seen in 2022) retains many of its traditional whisky distilling fixtures and fittings. Part of the east malt barn and kilns is now used as a visitor centre, café and offices but retains features such as metal column floor supports. The west malt barn is no longer in use for malt drying and storage but retains much of the interior when last in use including wooden hoppers and related machinery and metal column floor supports. The mash house section of the distillery contains mash tuns. The old filling store, now used as storage space, houses two wooden tanks and related filling equipment.
There is a stone pier and slipway to the southwest dating to probably the early 19th century. Constructed of rubble and dressed stone, the pier is curvilinear on plan with a slipway adjoining to the east. A short staircase, also of rubble and dressed stone, leads down from the pier to the slipway. Metalwork is present acting as ties between some of the stone blockwork on the pier.
Ardbeg Distillery was formally registered by John MacDougall as a legal commercial distillery in 1815 but was known to be in production from the late 18th century (Smith and Wallace, 2018). The commercial venture led by John MacDougall received backing from Thomas Buchanan Junior who was a Glasgow whisky merchant. However, early historical whisky records indicate spirit was being illicitly produced at Ardbeg from 1798 (Smith and Wallace, 2018). Islay Rentals record that Duncan McDougall, father of John and Alexander, rented the farms of Ardbeg, Airigh nam Beist and Ardenistiel, as well as half of the farm of Lagavulin. By 1818, Ardbeg was officially producing whisky with its first officially recorded listing of operation.
The site of the distillery was probably chosen due to the plentiful supply of fresh water immediately north of the distillery; the proximity of fertile land ideal for a distillery farm; the surrounding land was relatively flat for development and potential expansion of the operations; the location on the water allowed ease of access for imports and exports by sea.
The 19th century was a long period of development for the distillery as it was established and expanded. In 1835, output for the distillery is recorded at up to 500 gallons (2273 litres) per week (The Ardbeg Project Website, History).
In 1853, after the death of Alexander MacDougall, Ardbeg was co-run by Colin Hay and MacDougall's sisters, Margaret and Flora, who may possibly be Scotland's first female distillers. In 1855, John Ramsay became the owner and landlord of Laphroaig, Ardenistiel, Lagavulin and Ardbeg Distilleries and their villages, pastures and associated farms. Ramsay ensured the current distillery owners had long leases and had properly secured water rights – important factors to provide stability that allows future business planning and potential expansion.
The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1878) depicts a smaller site at Ardbeg, showing the footprint of some buildings surviving today such as the east malt barn and kilns, the old filling store and mash house and some of the west kiln building as well as the pier. This early map also shows formally laid out gardens to the west for workers to enjoy in their spare time.
Up until 1887, records indicate the MacDougall family either owned or ran the distillery, representing around almost 100 years of whisky production, some illicit, by the family at Ardbeg (The Ardbeg Project Website, History). The distillery reached a historic peak of production in 1887 with records showing 1,100,000 litres distilled that year.
The 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1897) reflects this peak activity at Ardbeg and shows the footprint of an expansive site with many buildings surviving today and some being taken down since. The gardens to the west are replaced by massive warehouses and the west kiln is extended north to provide a second malt barn to aid increased production. The old post office, workers' cottages and the excise house and warehouse number two have also been constructed relatively recently by this map date.
The 20th century initially saw a continuation of good fortunes. A landmark date for the branding of Ardbeg comes in 1911 when it was registered as a trademark and the famous letter "A" logo was established. However, the mid to late part of this century saw a downturn for the whisky industry and Ardbeg Distillery. The distillery was closed during the global economic 'Depression' of 1932-35. Changes in registered business details and owners and shareholders takes place over the next several decades. A period of development is witnessed on the site with a series of modern warehouses constructed around 1950s-60s at the eastern side of the site (Smith and Wallace, 2018).
The major whisky slump of the 1980s affected many distilleries in Scotland. The malt barn floors at Ardbeg were used for, what was thought to be, their last time in 1980. On the 25 March 1981, Ardbeg Distillery closed and did not reopen until 1989. Production was restarted on a part-time basis until 1996.
In 1997, Glemorangie PLC purchased the distillery with the Old Kiln visitor centre and café opening the following year. In 2004, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey Group purchased Ardbeg Distillery. This modern era has witnessed further development with the construction of a new boiler house and still house and the ongoing maintenance, adaptation and upgrading of some buildings for the running of a 21st century distillery and visitor attraction.
Statement of Special Interest
Ardbeg Distillery, east and west malt barns and kilns, mash house, filling house and pier meet the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:
- The design and construction of the buildings at Ardbeg Distillery are typical for a distillery of this date. The survival of the early distillery buildings and the plan form contributes to the design interest.
- The original functions of the buildings are still clearly readable in the built fabric, plan form and its surviving interior fixtures and fittings.
- The buildings' setting is largely unchanged from the date of the site's construction and development in the 19th century.
- Its arrangement in a rural, coastal setting is picturesque and is typical of the Islay distilleries.
- The group of buildings retain its historic character and forms an important historic collection of industrial buildings.
Age and rarity
- It is a very early surviving example of a whisky distillery in Scotland.
- The core of the distillery is one of the five oldest surviving examples in Scotland.
- The level of survival of its original distillery buildings is rare within the building type. The buildings are remarkable because they have been in almost continuous use since the early 19th century.
Social historical interest
- These buildings continue to illustrate the earliest phase of whisky production on an industrial scale, which began in the early 19th century.
- This site is an exceptional tangible reminder of the early historical development of one of Scotland's most important indigenous industries.
Ardbeg Distillery is a relatively large and complete distillery site. It retains many of its original buildings which together are a historic collection of buildings required for producing whisky on an industrial scale. The buildings on the site date from roughly 1815 onwards, with a period of expansion in the mid-late 19th century and then mid-late 20th century. The buildings included in this listing largely date to when the distillery was built around 1815 or the first few years of production. Unusually for a distillery that operated for over 200 years, they have not been extensively altered or majorly rebuilt, especially on plan form.
The design and construction of the buildings at Ardbeg Distillery is typical for a distillery of this date. These typical design details include the small openings and gabled ends. They are built in good quality materials, which are likely to have been sourced from the area and retain a high level of architectural integrity.
The central courtyard-like area formed by the east and west malt barns and kilns is highly distinctive. The kilns with an ogee-roof topped by a pagoda-louvered apex vent are the most architecturally distinctive elements of the design. As well as clearly showing the historical function of the building they are distinctive features in the wider landscape. The plan form of the courtyard area of the distillery is unique and of bespoke design for Ardbeg. The overall plan of the listed buildings within the core of the distillery has witnessed only small changes since 19th century. The survival of the early distillery plan contributes to the design interest.
The interiors of the malting and distillery buildings have been extensively remodelled but still retain some of their traditional fixtures and fittings including some early equipment. The west malt barn has undergone fewer alterations than the east, and the original malt floors survive in the west barn along with corresponding metal column floor supports in both malt barns. The survival of some the distillery equipment, such as hoppers in the west malt barn and tanks in the old filling house, is important to show the various stages of the distilling process. Some of the distillery equipment, including the mash tuns have undergone replacement in the late 20th century. The replacement of distillery equipment is not unusual for an operational distillery, as the equipment will wear out and need to be renewed over time.
The malting and distilling factory is built on a rough U-plan, comprising rectangular-plan elements, such as the east and west malt barns, with the adjoining kilns on their south end. Some of the whisky process proceeds logically and efficiently from one end to the other (roughly from north to south), a plan form that contributed to a labour-saving and efficient distillery design.
Distilleries can be found all over Scotland and their design and plan form does not vary widely between the regions, with the exception of the materials they are constructed from. With just eight other working distilleries on Islay and around 140 across Scotland, Ardbeg Distillery is exceptional in design terms as a particularly large and relatively complete example of its building type.
When approached from the west, Ardbeg Distillery can clearly be seen across the distillery farm fields and is a distinctive industrial building in the rural coastal landscape. The distillery is on the southeastern edge of the island of Islay, on low coastal ground. The wider site is surrounded by farmland, occasionally dotted with agricultural and residential buildings. To the north of the site is a line of low hills. The pagoda roofs of the malt kilns can be seen from the approach road.
Ardbeg Distillery, like all surviving historic Islay distilleries, is located directly on the coast as the sea was the main link to mainland Scotland for imports and exports. This is demonstrated with the survival of the early 19th century pier and slipway which is an historic transport hub for the distillery. The distillery is also prominent in views from the sea.
The completeness and integrity of the historic group of buildings that comprises the early core of Ardbeg Distillery, as well as its immediate setting, is unusual and is of special interest. The complex retains many of its early and later 19th century industrial buildings, as well as a post office and houses for its workers to the north, and two semi-detached houses to the southeast, which were built for the excise officer. The contemporary warehouse number two and old store are from the later 19th century and survive immediately southeast of the early courtyard core of the distillery.
The historic relationship between these buildings can be clearly seen by the close proximity of the buildings to each other and they remain intervisible. The buildings also share similar design details. The survival of these buildings and the relative lack of obvious change to this historic group is important in showing how the site functioned when the distillery was in operation in the 19th century.
Adjacent to the north of the distillery complex is the former farmhouse for the distillery. Each distillery required a reliable and plentiful supply of grain, ideally in close proximity for efficiency and cost saving. The farmland around Ardbeg Distillery was managed by the old farmhouse and contributes to the wider historic setting of the distillery. The farmhouse and farmland act as a reminder of the total whisky production process and how crucial locality was to early commercial distilling on Islay and Scotland generally.
The immediate setting of Ardbeg Distillery largely retains its industrial appearance with the addition of later buildings which are in keeping with the form and function of the site. There has been later development to the east including some mid-20th century warehouses to the east, but these retain the general appearance of massive whitewashed walls and contributes to explaining the continuing development of the distillery. To the southwest is a 21st century still house which takes design cues from the 19th century kiln pagodas and is built from whitewashed walls covered in a traditionally slated roof.
Although the site continues to be extended, it still retains its historic distillery character within its immediate and wider setting.
Age and rarity
Scotland is renowned worldwide for its whisky. Whilst distilling alcohol is an ancient art, industrial scale whisky production in Scotland developed in the 1770s and 1780s, and distilling has remained one of Scotland's most important industries. The 1823 Excise Act cut the duty on spirits produced, allowed a rebate on malt tax and opened the export trade to all distillers. This had a dramatic effect on the industry with over 200 new distilleries licensed in two years. To survive, distillers concentrated on improving quality and efficiency.
By the 1890s the industry boomed to satisfy ever growing consumption. Scotland was regularly consuming over six million gallons a year and exporting ten million. To meet this demand new distilleries were constructed and existing distilleries were rebuilt on a larger scale.
The older a building is, and the fewer of its type that survive, the more likely it is to be of special interest. The distillery building type is not rare in Scotland with approximately 100 distillery buildings listed. However, in the overall context of the surviving historic buildings representing the whisky industry, Ardbeg Distillery is a very early example of its building type. Dating from around 1815, it was built and opened around 75 years before the boom period of distillery construction. However, whisky has been produced at Ardbeg, initially illicitly, since the 1790s which makes it one of the very oldest still operational distilleries in Scotland. There are only a small number of older operational distilleries in Scotland: Glenturret, Bowmore, Balblair and Strathisla-Glenlivet (surviving buildings are much later than Ardbeg) and Littlemill (subsequently demolished and rebuilt).
Focussing on Islay, records show a total of 24 distilleries have, across history, operated on the island. Only nine are in operation today on Islay, two of which are modern, setting Ardbeg Distillery apart within its regional context.
For its date, Ardbeg is a rare example of a relatively complete traditional whisky distillery. It retains many of the original buildings necessary in the distilling process and these have not been significantly altered, at least on plan form, since the 19th century. The group of 19th century buildings at Ardbeg Distillery clearly illustrates the early industrialisation and commercialisation of whisky production in Scotland and as such is a rare survivor. The core of the distillery included in this listing has some of the earliest surviving distillery buildings in Scotland. They retain their authenticity and are still clearly readable and appreciated as early distillery buildings. They are also remarkable because they have been in near continuous use until the present.
Social historical interest
Distilling is Scotland's most iconic industry with malt whisky exported worldwide. As around only 6% of the country's malt whisky distilleries are on Islay they are numerically a minor part of its architectural and historic character. However, the influence and renown of Islay single malts greatly exceeds their numerical stance within the Scottish whisky industry.
Ardbeg Distillery, being the second oldest survivor on Islay, can take credit towards the level of worldwide fame and high regard there is for Islay single malt whisky. Ardbeg Distillery is a very well preserved example of a distillery built from the early 19th century and further developed before the boom period of this industry. The survival of various distillery buildings together is significant in contributing to our understanding of how the distillery site functioned from in the 19th century. It is an exceptional tangible reminder of the early historical development of one of Scotland's most important industries.
Association with people or events of national importance
There is no association with a person or event of national importance.