Laphroaig was established in 1815 by Johnston brothers, Donald and Alexander and remained with the family until 1954 when descendant Ian Hunter died childless and left the distillery to Bessie Williamson.
Bessie is something of a whisky legend. Born in Glasgow in 1910 she went on to graduate with an MA from Glasgow University in 1932. Bessie had intended on becoming a teacher but to provide some income she agreed to take a summer job at Laphroaig distillery, where she would work directly with the distilleries’ owner and manager, Ian Hunter.
In 1938, Hunter suffered a stroke and Bessie came to his aid and became head of US distribution and by the time of World War II, Bessie had become distillery manager. Ian Hunter died in 1954 and, being without heir, he left his controlling share in the distillery, along with his house and land, to Bessie.
At a time when blends were king, Bessie was one of the first to see the potential in single malt whisky and was named as the Scotch Whisky Association’s American Spokesperson in 1961, travelling the US to spread the word of Islay and Laphroaig.
By 1967 Bessie had sold her shares in Laphroaig to Long John Distillers but remained in place as distillery manager until she retired in 1972. Ten years later, Bessie passed away in Gartnavel hospital in Glasgow, leaving behind a distillery and brand amongst the most revered and sought after in the world. The success that not only Laphroaig but Islay single malt in general, enjoys today, is in no small part down to Bessie Williamson.
Of course, today Laphroaig is owned by Japanese giants Suntory but the brand remains as loved as always and the distillery continues to produce some of the most characterful malts in the world, and in one of the most beautiful locations too. It’s not hard to see why Bessie came here with the intention of staying a few months only to end up staying for the best part of 50 years.
In front of me is a bottle of Laphroaig released under the ‘Old Particular’ name. This is a series of specially selected single cask bottlings from Douglas Laing. Each expression is bottled at natural colour and without chill filtration, allowing more of the dram’s individual character to come through. Casks are selected from all over the country and can come from any of the scotch whisky regions, with the addition of some single grain varieties into the bargain. The expression I have concerned myself with today is one of just 234 bottles and was distilled in June of the year 2000, before being bottled in June of 2015, making it exactly 15 years old.
The Scores: About the Scoring…
Smell: 19 / 20. Not as medicinal as Laphroaig can be but recognisably Islay nonetheless. No sign of the 15 years of cask influence dulling the peat influence here… Think Smoke, Ash and Barbecue with Lemon and Vanilla.
Taste: 19 / 20. Bottled at 48.4% but there’s little hint of strength on the palate. Vanilla and Lemon with thick Smoke and Ash and a touch of Liquorice.
Value for money: 6 / 10. On the expensive side at £95, which is a touch extreme for a 15 year old single malt but such is the case with single cask Islay’s these days.
Overall: 44 / 50. Despite the high price, this won’t disappoint an Islay fan, offering a little extra maturity without losing the heavy peat influence that makes Laphroaig what it is.