Latest update: May 27th 2012
LAPHROAIG DISTILLERY PICTURES
Heading back after a long time, Laphroaig looks as impressive as when I visited the distillery before. Marketing is a huge factor at the distillery and a lot of work is set in motion for the Friends of Laphroaig. Visit the square foot you own is something that grew into something of a cult. There are people that nurture their square foot when they visit it, and there are even people that ask their spouses to marry them at their square foot, so this part of the deal is perfected to the max.
The tour is very good with a guide that knows what she is talking about, and at the various spots the distillery staff jumps in to even further the experience. I was even made the cut at the spirit safe, nice to get the feeling that you helped to get the spirit right that we all we taste in a while.
At the end of the tour I had the warehouse experience, a great feel being in the moist warehouse and trying some cask samples to select your favorite and bottle a small bottle.
There are various options of tours even one where you can get out in the fields to the peat bogs and cut peat, which is an experience for itself.
The pictures in the slide show at the left, were taken by Frans Brouwer – The Whisky Friend, and his travelling companion Hennie van Staden. The pictures are used with kind permission from him.
The 1745 rebellion split Scotland, putting clan against clan. The Johnston brothers, Alexander and Donald, supported the crown. By 1810, the brothers moved to Islay and bought 1000 acres of farmland at Laphroaig for rearing cattle. Laphroaig was founded in 1815, but probably the distillery already started in 1810, when Alexander and Donald Johnston, started farming. In 1836 Donald bought out his brother and became the sole owner of Laphroaig. Donald died in 1847, when he fell into a vat of partially-made whisky. As his son Dugald was only 11, the distillery was temporarily leased to neighbouring farmer Graham of Lagavulin. By 1857 Dugald was old enough to take over the distillery himself, he died in 1877, after twenty highly successful years. The distillery was passed on to his two sisters and his brother in law Alexander Johnston. Laphroaig kept growing and new buildings were erected. Laphroaig’s smoky taste was highly appreciated by blenders. Half of the output went to Lagavulin’s owner, Mackie and Co., who used it for blending, which restricted the ability to for Laphroaig to sell their own pure malt whisky to a wider market. Alexander died in 1887 and the distillery was inherited by his sisters mrs William Hunter and Katherine Johnston, and his nephew J. Johnston-Hunter. The family decided that Mackie and Co were getting too much of their whisky and terminated the agreement as agent – which meant that they were taken to court. In 1907 the Mackies blocked and diverted the water source of Laphroaig, the court intervened and they had to restore the water supply. In 1908 the Mackies decided to copy the Laphroaig stills – with the help of Laphroaig’s head brewer, whom they persuaded to come and work for Lagavulin. However all attempts to copy Laphroaig failed.
Around 1921, Ian Hunter, sons of William Hunter, took over the distillery and revitalized it. A new lease was due to be made with the owners, Ramsay of Kildalton, and Mackie and Co put in a higher offer to rent Laphroaig. In the end the owners decided to sell the estate and gave Ian the first opportunity to buy the land. This also applied for Ardbeg and Lagavulin, Mackie and Co tried to outbid Ian Hunter again, but failed. After the completion of the purchase, it was decided to increase the capacity of Laphroaig. By 1923 the Laphroaig capacity was doubled and the maltings, as they now stand, were completed. A new wash and spirit still were erected. Ian also pioneered the use of bourbon casks. By now, the trick of “sweetening” and softening the flavour of whisky by using Spanish sherry barrels had become common. Ian also spread the Laphroaig gospel around the world. Export grew to Latin America, Europe and even to the U.S.A. and Canada, even though this was prohibition time. Ian was able to persuad the officials, that the iodine smell surely meant that Laphroaig had medical properties.
Ian Hunter was the last of the family line. The secret of Laphroaig had been carefully protected by the family over the years. He found however, a trusted person in Bessie Williamson . Bessie Williamson visited Glasgow University and with scarce jobs in the economic slump, she took on a succession of temporary appointments. In her search for regular employment, she kept in touch with her uncle Willie, accountant to Ian Hunter. One summer, Ian wrote to him asking if he knew of a reliable woman for a summer office job. Bessie took this chance and in the end stayed at the distillery for 40 years. During WW II, the Laphroaig distillery was commandeered as a military depot. Ian, now confined to a wheelchair, decided that on his death, Bessie was the person that would have to maintain and develop Laphroaig’s long traditions. In 1954 he died, leaving her the whole distillery. In order to continue the worldwide growth, Bessie new that she needed the support of an international group, one who could continue the old traditions but had the financial muscle to carry the brand to new global markets. So in the 60s, she sold Laphroaig to Long John International.In 1990, Allied Domecq acquired the distillery.
In 1994, under the management of Ian Henderson, the Friends of Laphroaig Club was officially set up. Each member getting a lifetimes lease of one square foot of land.
In 2005, Allied was acquired by Chivas Brothers. They sold of the Teacher’s Blend to Beam Global Spirits & Wine, and with that came the Ardmore and Laphroaig distilleries.
LAPHROAIG DISTILLERY VISIT 2004