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Laphroaig and Bessie Williamson
Laphroaig was established in 1815 by the Johnston brothers, Donald and Alexander. The distillery remained with their family until 1954, when the last of the line died childless, leaving everything to his manager and friend, Bessie Williamson.
Bessie was born in Glasgow in 1910 and graduated with an MA from Glasgow University in 1932. Intending to seek employment as a teacher, Bessie agreed to take a summer job working at Laphroaig distillery, where she would assist the owner and manager, Ian Hunter.
The two developed a strong working relationship it seems and when Hunter suffered a stroke in 1938, Bessie came to his aid, becoming head of US distribution in the process. By the dawn of World War II, Bessie had taken over as distillery manager and when Ian Hunter died in 1954, he left his controlling share, along with his house and land, to Bessie.
At a time when blended Scotch was king, Bessie saw potential in marketing single malt whisky in its own right and was named as the Scotch Whisky Association’s American Spokesperson in 1961, travelling the US and spreading the word of Islay and Laphroaig.
In 1967 Bessie sold her controlling share to Long John Distillers but stayed on as distillery manager until her retirement in 1972. A decade later, she passed away in Gartnavel hospital in Glasgow, leaving her beloved Laphroaig one of the most treasured single malts globally.
Today Laphroaig is owned by Japanese giants Suntory. It continues to produce some of the most characterful whisky in the world. The distillery itself stands in a serene bay, surrounded by a rugged, yet beautiful landscape. It is not hard to see why Bessie Williamson came with the intention of working for a few months and ended up staying for 50 years.
The Old Particular brand is a series of single cask bottlings from Douglas Laing. One of just 234 bottles, this Laphroaig was distilled in June of 2000 and bottled in 2015, making it 15 years old.
Smell: Not as medicinal as some Laphroaig but recognisably Islay nonetheless with no sign of 15 years of cask influence dulling the peat… Think Smoke, Ash and Barbecue with a touch of Lemon and Vanilla.
Taste: Bottled at 48.4% but there’s little hint of strength on the palate. Vanilla and Lemon with thick Smoke and Ash, even a touch of Liquorice.
Thoughts: This one was on the expensive side at £95 a bottle. That seems a little extreme for a 15-year-old malt. Having said that, single cask Islay, particularly from Laphroaig, doesn’t come cheap these days.
It won’t disappoint fans of Islay whisky, although at 15 years it’s lost some of the intensity usually associated with Laphroaig. The famous medicinal peat hasn’t disappeared altogether though. In many ways, there are no surprises here. It comes across pretty much exactly as you’d expect.