This distillery was officially founded at Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, in 1815 by brothers Alex and Don Johnston. Rumours have it that the brothers were distilling 'in secret' before they even acquired a license to distill. Laphroaig remained under the ownership of the founders and their successors until 1954.
Don Johntson fell into a pot of boiling ale while at work and died in 1847. Local storytellers will sometimes tell visitors tales about the 'haunted' warehouses at the distillery where his ghost has been seen in the past.
In 1908 the great-grandson of Donald Johnston, Ian Hunter, ditched Peter Mackie as agent for Laphoraig distillery. A conflict ensued between Laphroaig and Lagavulin distilleries and the former distillery was deprived of water by the latter. Once the conflict was solved in Laphroaig's favour the distillery enjoyed a period of commercial success from the early 20th century. Laphroaig single malt proved popular in the 1920's and the distillery increased production capacity. Ian Hunter ran the distillery with an iron fist.
In 1938 Ian Hunter was confined to a wheelchair after he suffered a stroke. His loyal employee Bessie Williamson became the de facto manager. After his death in 1954 the distillery was bequeathed to B. Williamson. She effectively became the first and only woman in Scotland to own a distillery in the 20th century. Under her ownership the whisky produced at Laphroaig became so popular that she sought investment to increase production capacity once more.
In 1967 an American distilling company bought the distillery and kept B. Williamson as a board member. After some sales and acquisitions the distillery was bought by the Jim Beam (now Beam-Suntory) group in 2005.
Laphroaig whisky style
In style, Laphroaig is rich, full bodied and bold. This is achieved by using clear wort, a medium-long fermentation period (55 hours) and, an in-house kiln. The kiln is said to impart a creosote-like note with plenty of phenols. These phenols might come across as iodine and tar notes to those of us who enjoy this cult single malt.
The pot still line-up is also unique. One of the spirit stills is way larger than the rest and it produces spirit which is markedly different. This liquid is blended with the one produced by the other spirit stills and this also adds to the unique character. The final cut is deeper than the cut at neighbours Ardbeg and Lagavulin, this gives Laphroaig's spirit heavier and denser flavours.
Since the times of Ian Hunter, bourbon barrels have been the preferred cask for maturation. These barrels add a sweet note that compliments the exceptionally complex and rich palate of Laphroaig.
The best known expressions are the classic 10 year old and the relatively new Quarter Cask. While the 10 year old expression offers the classic peaty and phenolic flavours that we all expect from Laphroaig, the Quarter Cask delivers the richest oak flavours that American oak casks can deliver.