As with many great schemes, it all started over a pint in the pub.
Alan Mahon, founder of craft beer social enterprise Brewgooder, was chewing over the logistics of his boldest fundraising effort yet, The Global Gathering. His vision was to bring together hundreds of craft beer producers from around the world to create a collection of one-off brews, in aid of World Water Day. With the proceeds, Brewgooder hoped to provide clean water for 100,000 people in developing countries.
His flatmate, Alan McIntyre, Senior Brand Manager for whisky distillery Ardbeg, was immediately intrigued. The two friends shared a love for beer and whisky – was this an opportunity to bring both those worlds together?
Nine months later, the result was the Shortie Smoky Porter: Ardbeg’s first ever beer, created as part of the Global Gathering campaign.
Ardbeg prides itself on being The Ultimate Islay 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. Despite its smokiness, Ardbeg is renowned for its delicious sweetness, a phenomenon that has affectionately become known as ‘the peaty paradox’. 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. Since then, the Distillery has risen like a phoenix and today Ardbeg is well established as a niche, cult malt, with a passionate following.
As Alan McIntyre explains, by using the same peated malt the award-winning Ardbeg Ten Years Old whisky, the team aimed to capture the Distillery’s signature smoky character:
“We’re whisky experts, first and foremost, and while we know a lot about flavour, producing cans of beer is not our forte! So, we partnered with Williams Bros. Brewing Co., and they brewed the beer for us using Ardbeg’s hallmark malted barley, which is heavily peated.”
Launched in August 2020, The Shortie Smoky Porter will be available for a limited time only, exclusively in the UK. And it hass already caused a lot of excitement among Ardbeg’s fiercely loyal fans.
“Ardbeg is something of a cult brand”, McIntyre says, “and as soon as people heard about the possibility of a beer, we were getting enquiries from all over the world. We have an army of fans called the Ardbeg Committee which has members in over 120 countries, and a lot of them have been itching to get hold of it for months.
“Unfortunately, because of Covid-19, we had to delay the launch for a little while, but we’re now absolutely thrilled to share the Shortie Smoky Porter with the world. We hope existing smoky malt lovers will enjoy it, and maybe we’ll win over some new fans too.”
With the idea in mind, the team got to work with the minds at one of Scotland’s premier and pioneering craft breweries, Williams Bros Brewing Co. in Alloa.
“We’re huge fans of Williams Bros, so we knew we were in safe hands when it came to developing something really special which would capture the character of Ardbeg,” McIntyre continues.
“Our whisky creation team worked closely with them, testing out different styles of beer, and proportions of our smoky malt, along the way – we even considered a smoky IPA at one point.
In the end, we landed on the porter which showcases the Distillery’s signature smoky character, with notes of bitter dark chocolate, malty biscuit, dry espresso coffee and a hint of liquorice.”
The beer takes its name from Shortie the Jack Russell, who has been a beloved mascot of Ardbeg for many years. He is often said to have the peatiest nose on Islay (after Ardbeg that is). Fans of Ardbeg will be familiar with Shortie from his occasional cameo in their adverts and packaging – but this is the first time he’s had a product named in his honour.
Alan Mahon, founder of Brewgooder, commented: “This collaboration is particularly special for me. To create an incredible beer that helps empower people’s lives is one thing, to do it with one of the world’s best whisky brands is another, but to bring it to life with my best friend: there are few things I have been prouder of in my life.
I look forward to working with the team at Ardbeg to turn the profits from this beer into life-saving clean water wells for those who need them.”
Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks commented: “We all dig Ardbeg, and no more so than Shortie. So for this life-saving, well-digging clean water brew, it was only fitting that our canine mascot should represent Islay. As with most porters, this beer is smooth and creamy. However our malt has helped make it distinctly smoky – the way we imagine an Ardbeg beer is meant to taste!”
The legacy of the whisky was safeguarded in 2000 by the formation of the 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”. Today there are more than 100,000 members of the Ardbeg Committee in over 130 countries. 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, chaired by Mickey Heads, is free to join at ardbeg.com.
Mickey Heads, Ardbeg Distillery Manager, said: “Not only is this a hugely important cause – that we’re delighted to be a part of – but The Shortie Smoky Porter is of course a first for the Distillery. Helping brew a beer may seem like unchartered territory for Ardbeg, but as any whiskyphile worth their malt will tell you, beer and whisky share the same DNA. Just like brewers, we ferment our malt. The only difference being, we hold on to the hops. We hope that Ardbeggians and craft beer lovers alike will enjoy this extra special limited edition.”
For those of you cracking open a can of Ardbeg’s first foray into beer, McIntyre has a incredible recommendation for those looking to indulge in a very special “hauf an a hauf” (whisky and beer pairing):
“Our mission in creating The Shortie Smoky Porter was to capture the flavours and essence of an Ardbeg whisky, in beer form. For us, it’s the perfect accompaniment to our flagship expression, Ardbeg Ten Years Old.”
Brewgooder Global Gathering Campaign
The Ardbeg Shortie Smoky Porter was originally conceived as part of Scottish craft beer brand Brewgooder’s Global Gathering campaign. Brewgooder attracted more than 240 brewers from around the world this collaborative brewing project on a mission to provide clean water for 100,000 people in developing countries. Ardbeg was the only spirits brand to take part. The campaign partnered with hundreds of breweries in the UK and around the world to brew unique, small-batch beers. To find out more visit www.brewgooder.com/gathering