Laphroaig sits on the south coast of Islay and is the first of three distilleries located along the road leading from Port Ellen. First is Laphroaig, second Lagavulin and finally Ardbeg. Together these three perhaps best exemplify the traditional character of heavily peated Islay whisky.
Laphroaig was founded in 1815 by brothers Alexander and Donald Johnston, who despite their name, were actually McCabes and members of Clan Donald. Following the Jacobite Uprising which reached a bloody conclusion at the battle of Culloden in 1745, the British government passed the Dress Act of 1746 which banned the wearing of Tartan along with other aspects of Gaelic culture. Clan Donald had supported Bonnie Prince Charlie’s ill-fated campaign and those that survived the repercussions perhaps felt it best to keep their heads down. So, the McCabes became the Johnstons and, thanks to the support of local laird Walter Frederick Campbell, Alexander and Donald were able to build their distillery.
Donald ran the distillery until his tragic death in 1847 when a gruesome accident at the distillery saw him plunge into a vat of boiling pot ale. The company carried the name D. Johnston & Co. until Laphroaig’s eventual sale in the 1960’s. A fitting tribute to the man that started it all.
Today, the distillery is owned by Beam Suntory and unlike many of it’s counterparts, continues to operate it’s own malting floor. The staff believe that 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 change the Laphroaig spirit known and loved the world over. There are a few expressions on the market currently but the standard 10 year old continues to be the flag bearer of the range and is the best selling of all Islay single malts.
The Scores: About the Scoring…
Smell: 19 / 20. The Laphroaig ten year old probably has the most instantly recognisable nose of any whisky. Smoke, Ash, Iodine, Tar, Vanilla Cream, Honey and a little touch of Citrus combine to attack your senses in a way few other drams can.
Taste: 18 / 20. A wave of Smoke & Barbecue with Lemon & Biscuit, a touch of White Pepper and Ash right at the back. Big flavour but light bodied and surprisingly easy drinking.
Value for Money: 8 / 10. No complaints at a very reasonable £35 per bottle.
Overall: 45 / 50. Possibly the most divisive dram in the world with many finding the medicinal, smokey 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, amongst the finest ten year old’s on the market. I can’t help but wish it was bottled at a slightly higher strength without filtering but regardless, there is no denying it’s outstanding quality.