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02/03/2020

Spotlight On Laphroaig

by Rory Spensley (Spirits Team)

A new feature to the BI blog, our spotlight posts, will shine a light on some of the best distilleries around. This week we take a look at one of the most storied whiskies in the world, the wonderfully smoky, King of Peat: Laphroaig.

 

A double dash of dragon fire with a drop of sea monster and a hint of warrior spirits’

 

So goes one of the great quotes about the whiskies that the great distillery of Laphroaig is known for. Laphroaig (translated in Gaelic as ‘the beautiful hollow by the broad bay’ is nestled in the picturesque southern part of Islay. As THE top selling Islay whisky in the world, Laphroaig is known for producing intensely rich and smoky drams since its inception over 200 years ago and is one of the first distilleries in Scotland to sell their liquid as single malt whisky.  Since 1994, Laphroaig has been the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of HRH, Prince Charles, and it is said the HRH’s all-time favourite whisky is the 15 year old expression.

Its long and tumultuous history begins in 1815 after two brothers Donald and Alexander Johnston leased 1000 acres of farming land from the laird of Islay. As can be expected, the surplus barley left after the cattle “feed” was produced was distilled to make whisky, thus Laphroaig distillery was born.

 

‘It’s like licking the back of a fireplace of an Islay cottage’

 

The subsequent years involved legal disputes as Catherine Johnston (Alexander’s niece) and husband William Hunter wished to strip Laphroaig’s obligations to Mackie & Co to provide Laphroaig for blending so that they could focus on the single malt offering.  At the peak of tensions, Peter Mackie had the distillery’s Kilbride Stream blocked with stones in an attempt to prevent Laphroaig from producing any whisky at all. Once this plan was foiled, Mackie went for a ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach and replicated the Laphroaig still house, in his neighbouring Lagavulin distillery, hoping to create ‘another Laphroaig’.        

 

‘The perfect gift for someone you love, or hate… or haven’t made your mind up about!’

 

The result of all of these legal battles crippled both Lagavulin and Laphroaig and at the turn of the 20th century, both were close to switching off their stills for good. In steps Ian Hunter, son of Catherine Johnston and William Hunter. In his tenure as owner of the distillery, Hunter oversaw the increase in Laphroaig’s capacity and global expansion. Most amazing of his expansion achievements was convincing US customs and excise (during the prohibition) that the whisky’s pungent seaweed and iodine-like nose was evidence of Laphroaig’s medicinal properties.

 

‘More famous at 10 than Macauley Culkin’

 

Being the last of his family line, Hunter was a fervent believer in keeping the recipe and distillery processes a secret to ensure the continuity of Laphroaig. Little did he know that in the summer of 1934 a young woman, recently graduated from Glasgow University and on a summer work placement at the distillery, would become his trusted confident and would herself take the reins and lead Laphroaig through its next exciting chapter.

Bessie Williamson arrived on Islay with one suitcase, ready for a summer working at the distillery. Unbeknownst to her, she would stay there for 40 more years. In Bessie, Ian Hunter had found a person that had the passion, integrity and drive to maintain the great traditions of Laphroaig. Slowly but surely, he passed on to her all the distillery knowledge he had acquired, including the decision to age Laphroaig’s spirit in ex-bourbon American white oak casks. As a result of Second World War, sherry casks became harder to come by. Therefore, Laphroaig chose to import ex-bourbon casks from the USA rather than re-using exhausted sherry casks. This is a decision they have stuck with to this very day.

Laphroaig is considered one of the most iconic distilleries of the world with enthusiasts and critics alike praising the consistency of quality whisky produced. Recently, the distillery has benefited from its Islay neighbour Ardbeg re-adjusting (rather steeply upwards) their pricing and the support from spiritst juggernaut Beam Suntory increasing their global appeal.

 

On to the whiskies:

 

Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength Batch #011 – GBP 60 DP ex VAT per bottle– 26 bottles available

Latest of Laphroaig’s hugely popular small-batch edition of its 10 year old single malt, Batch 011 is exactly what you need if you love the taste of Laphroaig with an extra kick. For someone who usually shies away from peated whiskies, this release is proof that you cannot judge a book by its cover. An amazing dram and one of my favourites in recent memory. Aged in a charred oak barrels, this is the smoky maritime whisky we have come to know well with notes of nutty vanilla. This release is barrier filtered meaning that only the smallest char particles are removed from the liquid.

58.6% abv / 70cl

“If you don’t ever taste it, you will never fully know malt.” Dominic Roskrow: 1001 Whiskies to Try Before You Die

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Laphroaig Lore – GBP 62 DP ex VAT per bottle – 30 bottles available

Created from liquid mature in small batches in five unique casks, The Laphroaig Lore uses different aged statement liquids between the ages of 7 and 21 to create a whisky that is inspired by the knowledge and tradition passed down from generation to generation at the distillery. If Laphroaig is a head banging, mosh pit fighter of a whisky, this expression is the acoustic remix of its favourite song.

70cl @ 48%abv

Best No Age Statement Scotch – Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2019

 

Laphroaig 25 Year Old 2019 Release – GBP 278 DP ex VAT per bottle– 30 bottles available

Matured in a combination of ex-bourbon barrels and oloroso sherry casks for 25 long years, this year’s release of Laphroaig 25 year old was bottled at a hearty 51.4% and boast everything you would expect from such a bottling. Lashings of rich peat smoke intermingle with dried fruit and delicate spice that leaves the palate begging for more.

70cl @ 51.4% abv

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Laphroaig 28 Year Old 2018 Release – GBP 435 DP ex VAT per bottle1 bottle available

At the time of release, this was one of the oldest releases by Laphroaig. Weighing in at a respectable 44.4% abv, this liquid spent most of its life ageing in a combination of quarter casks, ex-bourbon barrels and oloroso sherry butts.

70cl @ 44.40% abv

90 points Serge Valentin

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Laphroaig 20 Year Old 1988 The Syndicate – GBP 475 Dp ex VAT per bottle– 1 bottle available

Whar began as a simple purchase of certain Islay whiskies in the 1970s soon turned into one of the most exciting independent bottling brands around. Property investor John MacTaggart possessed a real enthusiasm for Islay malts and along with a few friend, he create the Syndicate. This iteration is a very rare and collectible Laphroaig distilled in 1988 and matured for 20 years before being bottled in 2008 at cask strength.

70cl @ 53.10% abv

 

Laphroaig 13 Year Old Sestante Import – GBP 1350 IB per bottle– 1 bottle available. 

Founded in 1977 by a chap called Ernesto Mainardi in Parma, Sestante has become one of the most recognisable independent bottlers around. Mainardi’s love affair with single malt scotch began when with his first tastes of Glenlivet and Laphroaig while working as a bartender. This 13 year old was distilled in 1973 and bottled in late 1986 at 40% abv.

75cl @ 40% abv

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