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Laphroaig stands on Islay’s southern coast, the first of three famous distilleries situated along the road from Port Ellen. First comes Laphroaig, second is Lagavulin and finally, Ardbeg. Together, these three giants of the industry embody the traditional character of the heavily peated Islay spirit.
Laphroaig was founded in 1815 by brothers Alexander and Donald Johnston. Originally McCabes and members of Clan Donald, the Johnston family changed their name following the bloody conclusion of the Jacobite Uprising at Culloden in 1745. Clan Donald’s support of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s ill-fated campaign saw many of those that survived the repercussions take measures to distance themselves from the entire affair. Thus, this branch of McCabes became Johnston and two of their sons would create Laphroaig with the help of the local laird, a Campbell, no less.
Donald Johnston ran the distillery until his tragic death in 1847 when an accident at the distillery saw him plunge into a vat of boiling pot ale. The company continued to carry the name of D. Johnston & Co. until the distillery’s sale in the 1960s.
Today, Laphroaig is owned by Beam Suntory. Unlike many of its counterparts, the distillery continues to operate a malting floor. Staff believe the Laphroaig kiln imparts a unique character to the barley that carries through into the finished whisky and although only 20% of requirements are met onsite, any change to this process could drastically alter the character of the Laphroaig spirit. Though there are a few expressions currently on the market, the standard 10-year-old serves as the flag bearer. It is the best selling of all the Islay single malts.
Smell: The Laphroaig ten-year-old has probably the most recognisable nose of any dram. Smoke, ash, iodine, tar… But there’s also vanilla cream, honey and a little touch of citrus. It all combines to attack the senses in a way few other drams can.
Taste: A wave of smoke & barbecue with lemon and biscuit and a touch of white pepper and ash right at the back. Big flavour but light-bodied and surprisingly easy drinking.
Thoughts: Even at 40% you can’t really complain that there isn’t enough flavour in your £35 bottle.
Laphroaig is probably the most divisive whisky in the world with many finding the medicinal, smoky character off-putting. For those that can brave the fire and brimstone though, there is a massively tasty dram to be enjoyed here. It is, in fact, among the finest ten-year-olds on the market, in my opinion. I can’t help but wish it was bottled at a slightly higher strength but regardless, there is no denying the quality of this most unique of single malt Scotch whiskies.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.