The biggest-selling whisky on Islay, selling more than one-and-a-half times as much as its nearest rival, Laphroaig is also the most divisive. Famously medicinal in character, the distillery describes its whisky in similar terms to Marmite – you either love it or hate it. Fortunately for Laphroaig, lots of people love it.
Founded in 1815, it is the first of the three south-coast distilleries you reach when travelling from nearby Port Ellen. It was owned by the Johnston family and their descendents until the 1960s, when distillery manager Bessie Williamson sold her remaining shares to Long John. Since then, a succession of managers has steered the distillery to its current place as Islay’s number one.
Production uses both malt bought in from Port Ellen and malt produced at the distillery’s own maltings. Unlike other distillers on the island, Laphroaig’s own malt is smokier than that produced at Port Ellen. It is kept apart from the other malt not only during mashing, fermentation and distillation, but the spirit it produces is also matured separately. This, along with the unique combination of three wash and four spirit stills, including one very large spirit still, gives Laphroaig a large amount of flexibility when creating their own whiskies and a range of different styles of spirits for independents to bottle.
While the new-make has changed over the past 40 years, it has always had a medicinal peaty tang at its heart. From the richly fruity style of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s to the more tobacco-directed modern-day style, the use of peat has always been central to Laphroaig. The distillery’s use of stills with upward-sloping lyne arms also helps to create fruity notes found in the background of both the spirit and the mature whisky.