Laphroaig Distillery

One of four distilleries on the south coast of Islay in Argyll and Bute, Laphroaig lies between Lagavulin and the silent distillery at Port Ellen. It comprises a group of white-painted buildings overlooking the sea. The name is derived from Gaelic and may mean 'broad hollow by the bay'. The distillery was founded in 1815 by farmers Donald and Alexander Johnston. In 1836, Donald bought out his brother but then tragically died eleven years later when he fell into a hot mash tun. However the distillery remained in his family until 1954, when the then owner bequeathed everything to his secretary, the inimitable Bessie Williamson (1910-82), the only person he felt he could trust. She retired in 1972 and died ten years later. Thereafter it was bought by Long John International, which was successively taken over by Allied Domecq, the American bourbon producer Beam Inc. and finally Suntory of Japan.

Barley is malted on-site, infused with the smoke of peat cut from a bog at Glen Machrie. It is soaked in a stainless steel mash tun to allow the starch to convert to sugar, and then steeped in one of six 42,000-litre stainless steel washbacks, allowing the process of fermentation to turn the sugar to alcohol. The distillery then uses seven copper pot stills to concentrate the alcohol; three 10,900-litre wash stills for the primary distillation and four smaller spirit stills to finish the process (three of 3640 litres and one of 7280 litres). Like other distilleries only the middle 'cut' of distillation is kept, but this cut comes later in time than other places, making the alcohol less sweet, while preserving its more tarry, medicinal and peaty notes. Nearly all of the whisky is wholly or partially matured in ex-bourbon casks, made of American white oak and sourced from Maker's Mark Distillery in Kentucky. Bourbon casks began being used by the whisky industry in Scotland in the 1930s because large numbers of empty casks became available at low prices due to prohibition in the USA. Having added a new flavour dimension to the whisky they remain popular today. Some sherry casks are used at Laphroaig, often to double or triple mature whisky that has already spent time in bourbon casks. The casks are stored in warehouses next to the distillery for at least six years and some for 40 years or more. The distillery produces 3,378,500 litres of spirit per annum.

Water used to soak the barley, for cooling, and to bring the matured alcohol to bottle-strength, is drawn from the Kilbride River. The Johnstons had to defend their water in 1836 when a distillery setup nearby was determined to use the same source. The distillery had to fight for its water once again in 1907 when Lagavulin Distillery blocked their supply deliberately to disrupt production in a battle over sales. Lagavulin then tried to copy Laphroaig's product, damaging their reputation into the 1920s.

A second distillery was once also located here, called Ardenistiel. This had became a great rival to Laphroaig, but the two were merged by the local laird, John Ramsay (1815-92), who had great influence, owning the ground on which both distilleries stood.

HRH Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, has visited Laphroaig twice; first in 1998 when he gave the distillery his Royal Warrant, and again in 2008.

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