Aside from the festivities [WLP], you’ll find an informative mini museum situated in part of Laphroaig’s old maltings halls. For what it’s worth [and as part of my dire catch-up program], here’s some historical info I gleaned at the museum a while back [WLP].
- 1770s: Alexander Johnston rented a farm.
- 1815: Laphroaig’s official founding year. Alexander’s two sons take over the running of the farm and begin making whisky. One of the sons subsequently emigrates whilst the other, Donald, dies. Stories differ, but the prevailing tale is one where he [Donald] falls to his death into a vat of burnt ale.
- Donald’s son Dugald Johnston [see pic right], inherits the distillery aged 11, though a disputed will from two sisters results in the Distillery Manager running the distillery in the meantime and keeping the farm. All-in-all, Dugald ran the Laphroaig distillery for 30 years, doubling its capacity during his reign.
- 1921-1923: Alexander Johnston’s nephew, Ian [see pic left] takes control, becoming sole owner when his sister died.
Bessie Williams [see pic right] takes over after Ian’s death. The Laphroaig museum tells us:
‘Bessie arrived one summer and applied for a temporary job. She ended up staying 40 summers and became the first female distiller and distillery owner in the 20th century‘
,… though who’s to say how many hundreds if not thousands of women co-ran illicit stills with their partners & co., decades & decades before the excise act of 1823?
1994: Prince Charles grants the royal warrant to Laphroaig.
SW: ‘In the same year, 1994, the Friends of Laphroaig was launched, the first of the modern ‘member’s associations’ phenomenon – there are currently 638,000 members. In a creative piece of marketing – initiated by legendary manager Iain Henderson – ‘Friends’ were given a square foot of Islay which they leased back to the distillery in exchange for a year’s ‘rent’ of a miniature of Laphroaig which could only be claimed by visiting the distillery‘.
PRESENT-DAY DISTILLERY PRACTICE
Laphroaig malts its own barley on-site for 2-3 days a week, enough to cover around 15% of its malted barley needs. At time of writing, Laphroaig was one of only seven established Scottish distilleries with floor malting in-house. The other six are:
Balvenie, Benriach, Bowmore, Kilchoman, Highland Park, and Springbank. Does this mean Diageo doesn’t own a single distillery with floor maltings?* Since time of writing, there may well be any number of newer/smaller distilleries that could/should be included on this list.
Aside from a special [15yo?] in-house malted barley release [more citation needed], Laphroaig’s in-house maltings are generally mixed with outsourced malted barley. The original maltings floors are now given up to the museum, shop, and bar. Not surprisingly, Laphroaig employs more people in the visitor’s centre than it does for its whisky production.
Cold-smoked kilning occurs around the clock from Monday to Thursday using peat only. Highland Park, by contrast, uses a coke/peat combo to achieve a hotter furnace which gives a toast & roast rather than just a smoke. ‘This is the key to Laphroaig profile today,…‘ as well as a bourbon-led maturation program [no doubt a direct result of the Jim Beam contract back in 2005].
Fermentation-wise, from the horse’s mouth, the Mashman told us “45 hours and it’s done”.
Laphroaig maintains a slow distillation speed, claiming their foreshots run is the longest in the industry at 45 minutes – due in part to the stills upward lyne arms.
*[EDIT: Dalwhinnie, famously, has worm tubs!]