‘I’M a whisky romantic,” smiles Ardbeg manager Colin Gordon, as we gaze out the traditional dunnage warehouse towards the Atlantic.

It’s hard not to feel romantic on a spectacular coast alive with otters and dolphins; lashings of whisky heritage too, and a coast that offers the world one of its most distinctive and passionately followed single malts.

Normally when I come to Islay I try to squeeze in every distillery I can. Today that would mean rushing around nine – soon you’ll have to tackle a dozen as Islay whisky booms. This time, though, I’m taking a deep dive into one distillery.

Gordon laughs when I tell him as a kid I thought Ardbeg was made in Broxburn as I lived close to the bottling plant. In reality, Ardbeg could not be more Islay.

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A Parisian sommelier once told me that spirits have no terroir. I believed him until I first caught sight of Ardbeg from the ferry. This grand whitewashed Victorian dame hangs right on the Atlantic, salt-tinged air breezing right into those warehouses. Giant black letters let you know this is Ardbeg. You can taste the ocean in Ardbeg and the peat that cloaks the hillside all around.

In some ways it’s remarkable Ardbeg is even here, as Gordon explains: “Ardbeg was closed down in the 1980s as the whole industry slumped, but now we’re booming again with demand for quality single malts around the world growing.”

I’m struck by visible signs of this – Ardbeg recently crafted four new stills that peer out over the water and production this year is pushing beyond two million litres for the first time. Mention Islay malts and some people recoil in horror at their legendary peatiness, but that’s not the case with Ardbeg. Stillman Alastair Blair tells me it’s more about “balance”: “Our malt is made just along the road in Port Ellen and it’s heavily peated, but it’s all about balance. We weave in fruity, spicy notes with tweaks to the process.”

Some whisky tours feel just like the last one you did – not so at Ardbeg, which weaves its magic around a site first opened in 1815. At each turn I find elements that are distinctly Ardbeg. I see the Oregon washbacks that unusually have no switchers, which helps give Ardbeg the waxy mouthfeel I love. I learn about the long fermentation – about 67 hours – and the purifier that helps bring in those big fruity notes that for me are like smoky bananas. Gordon says it’s “like an extra half distillation”. They cut late to the feints too, which picks up the bigger, bolder flavours. Gordon explains this weaves in spicy, nutty notes.

The National: Visitors to Ardbeg Distillery get a true taste of life on the Isle of IslayVisitors to Ardbeg Distillery get a true taste of life on the Isle of Islay

Inside those glorious old world warehouses I’m delighted to meet ‘Dugga’. I’ve not seen him for almost 20 years. It’s good timing as today he is celebrating 25 years at Ardbeg! Dugga still works in the warehouse. Two decades ago, Dugga hiked me up past an old abandoned village in the hills to the source of Ardbeg’s water, Loch Uigeadail. “It literally translates as ‘dark and mysterious’, just like our malt”, he says today as I watch the bourbon barrels being filled with the new make spirit.

One of the things I love about Ardbeg is that you can dig as deep as you want with myriad tours: just dabble with a tasting, or do a deep dive. Everyone is welcome – you can even bring your own boat and moor for free. The Feis Ile whisky festival in May is an especially great time to visit.

They get the visitor experience right at Ardbeg, with 33 staff and a legendary visitor centre manager in Jackie Thomson, who I first met back in 2005 too. That continuity ensures passion and consistency – everyone you meet greets you with a smile and a can-do attitude, from their wee cocktail bar to the well-stocked new street food truck where I tuck into local langoustines with an ocean view and a dram of Uigeadail.

Honing in on one corner of Islay brings joys beyond the actual distillery. I stay just three miles away at the Islay Hotel, feasting on local scallops and crab linguine, followed by an Ardbeg panna cotta. I hike straight from the hotel inland and discover not one but three separate standing stones.

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My second night sees a folk session in the hotel’s welcoming whisky bar, where I contrast a cheeky five-year-old Ardbeg with a lingering, smooth Corryvreckan. The latter has won best whisky in the world and it’s easy to see why.

On my last day, I hire an e-bike from Islay E-Wheels. First I cut east from Ardbeg – after popping back in to really check out the shop and to grab more langoustines – to take in the vaulting Kildalton Cross, one of Scotland’s finest Celtic crosses. Gordon recommends I head for the Mull of Oa too. I zoom up the hills, with views opening up across Loch Indaal to the north and south to Ireland.

As I sit with a wee dram of Ardbeg An Oa – named after this wild peninsula – and toast the view, a brace of sea eagles soar above the cliffs. Below, seals bellow on the rocks.

It may be a malt, but my dram blends into the land all around me. Taking time to slow down and hone in on one distillery and one corner of Islay has proved a wise move; a real tonic to my usual rush around Islay.