Wednesday, 3 May 2017



The Laphroaig distillery is arguably the most famous distillery on Islay, the island famous for its pungent, peaty malts. It was a bestseller in the US during the infamous Prohibition days, January 1920-December 1933, when it was imported as medicinal alcohol and sold on a doctor's prescription. 

Laphroaig was 'officially' founded in 1815 but rumour has it that the brothers Alexander and Donald Johnston actually built it around 1810 when they started farming in the area. The first official registration of the distillery wasn't until 1826. The distillery remained in the Johnston family until 1954 when Ian Hunter left it to one Bessie Williamson.

The Johnston family provides a link between Laphroaig and another distillery on Islay: Tallant. It is long gone now (closed in 1852), but it was owned by another branch of the Johnston family. In those days, people still married their nephews & nieces , so after a marriage Laphroaig & Tallant were owned by the same family for a while. Ian William Hunter was a member of the Johnston family as well. 

He started working at Laphroaig in 1908 and remained there until his death in 1954. Ian Hunter had no descendants, so he left the distillery to his secretary, Elisabeth ('Bessie') Williamson. Bessie was the first female distillery manager on Islay (and quite probably in all Scotland); she managed Laphroaig until her retirement in 1972. 

Laphroaig stands on the 'grave' of another distillery in the Kildalton area of Islay. Unlike the aforementioned Tallant distillery, the Ardenistle distillery     (Ardenestiel or Aredenistiel) was located right next to Laphroaig. It was founded in 1837 by Andrew & James Stein - but it was discontinued again just a decade later, around 1848. The remains are now part of the Laphroaig distillery. 

The Islay Festival is great way to know the distilleries, the island and its inhabitants. Every distillery on the island releases one or more ' festival bottlings' each year, and those from Laphroaig are usually excellent - and relatively affordable too.

Laphroaig produces a great number of NAS expressions. Almost 75% of their brands are less than 12 years, with the Select as young as 5.5 years! The age of Laphroaig's brands is usually 10 years. The list below gives the prices of their NAS bestsellers. My personal choice is the Lore, said to be the richest ever Laphroaig! Named after the skills passed down over the generations, this permanent addition to the range is matured in a combination of casks including first fill Sherry butts and quarter casks and is said to contain some of their "most precious stock".

-Laphroaig PX Cask NAS £54  The three types of barrels used in the maturation each impart a subtly different character, from American oak to Quarter Cask to Pedro Ximenez sherry. The last maturation in the ex-PX Cask provides the rich, sweeter and full bodied notes which perfectly complement the peat-smoke tang of Laphroaig.

-Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 NAS £56  A limited edition malt to celebrate friendship (“Cairdeas“ in Gaelic). This 2016 bottling features fully-matured Laphroaig aged in ex-bourbon barrels before being artfully married together for a second maturation in Madeira seasoned traditional hogsheads.  

-Laphroaig Brodir NAS· £112.65 For this expression, the Islay distillers first matured the whisky in ex-bourbon barrels before transferring it over to casks which previous held Ruby Port. The combination of Laphroaig's classic coastal peaty gorgeousness with the elegance of the Ruby Port finish make Brodir a very handsome dram indeed.

-Laphroaig Triple Wood NAS· £62.5 This is an incredible new release from Laphroaig, originally launched for the duty free market, and it is a tour de force from the Islay distillery. First they mature this in bourbon barrels, before transfer into quarter casks, and a third maturation in Oloroso sherry European oak butts.

-Laphroaig Quarter Cask NAS· £49.3 Released in 2004, this bottling was aged for around five years before being finished in a quarter cask for several months, the size of the cask is quite small, thus does not require such a long maturation. This remains a truly great achievement from Laphroaig.
-Laphroaig Four Oak NAS· £48.46 features a marriage of whisky matured in a quartet of casks, namely ex-bourbon barrels, quarter casks, virgin American oak barrels and European oak hogsheads. Somewhat on the lines of their popular Triple Wood expression.

-Laphroaig QA Cask NAS· £48.45 initially matured in ex-bourbon barrels before ensuring a finishing period in charred American white oak casks. With this finishing period paired with Laphroaig's classically intense flavour profile, you might expect a massively in-your-face dram, but the result is very well-balanced between coastal smoke and sweet, chewy vanilla notes. The name comes from the Latin phrase 'Quercus Alba', meaning white oak.

-Laphroaig The 1815 Legacy Edition NAS· £93.6 created by Distillery Manager John Campbell in honour of the members of the Laphroaig team that have been producing the much-adored whisky on Islay over the years. This expression features whisky aged in first-fill bourbon barrels and new European oak hogsheads.

-Laphroaig Select NAS 51.15  For the Laphroaig Select, the Islay distillery has taken whisky from a number of different types of cask, including Oloroso Sherry butts, white American oak, Pedro Ximenez seasoned hoggies, Quarter casks and first fill bourbon casks. Quite a "selection", wouldn't you say? A laid-back addition to the Laphroaig core range of single malts.

-Laphroaig An Cuan Mòr NAS· £96  For the An Cuan Mòr, which means 'Big Ocean' in Gaelic, the whisky is initially matured in first-fill American white oak bourbon barrel and then finished in European oak casks.