Laphroaig is the world's largest selling Scotch single malt whisky in the peated style. It has been number one since the late 1980s and significantly outsells its competitors. This has driven Laphroaig into the heart of the Top 10 for total Scotch single malt sales. It perfectly describes its Islay location in the glass and is enjoyed all over the world.
Laphroaig is famously known for its rich, peaty and smoky style of single malt. This is often described as acrid, medicinal and earthy. This smokiness is due to phenol levels in the malted barley. It is measured on the PPM scale (Phenol Parts per Million). Laphroaig is one of the most heavily peated Islay malts with an average of 55ppm. This extreme style divides opinion though. This has spawned the #OpinionsWelcome campaign, which allows consumers to post their own tasting notes on social media.
The famous 10-year-old is by far the most popular expression. Like most Laphroaig single malts, such as the 10-year-old Cask Strength and Quarter Cask, it is matured in ex-bourbon casks made from American oak. This suits the heavily peated style. Some bottlings, such as the Lore and Triple Wood plus various limited editions, also feature ex-sherry casks.
Laphroaig is one among just a handful of Scotland's 120+ single malt distilleries to produce some of their own malt. This traditional process first sees barley grains soaked for 24 hours. Grains are laid out to begin germination on a stone floor for about a week. It needs constant turning to avoid the roots and shoots growing together. It is a labour intensive process, which is why so few places maintain the practice.
The key element for Laphroaig is the peat fire to dry the germinated barley. This sees a compound called phenol locked into the barley during the drying process in the kiln. This phenol is carried through the entire whisky-making process and is what gives Laphroaig and other peaty whiskies their smoky flavour. They produce 15% of what they require with the rest coming from the nearby Port Ellen Maltings.
Once malted, the barley is mashed in a 5.5 tonne stainless steel mashtun. They currently operate 34 mashes per week. The resulting sugary wort is passed to one of six fermentation washbacks. Laphroaig's fermentation time is 55 hours. Unusually there is an odd number of stills. Stills tend to work in pairs but Laphroaig has three wash stills for the first distillation and four spirit stills for the second. The annual production capacity is 3.3 million litres.
Laphroaig was founded in 1815 by brothers Alexander and Donald Johnston. It is located on the southern coast of Islay close to the village of Port Ellen.
The distillery remained in the Johnston family until the late 1960s, bar a decade between 1847 and 1857 after Donald died. It included a pioneering spell following Alexander's death in 1907. This saw Alexander's two sisters, Catherine Johnston and Isabella Hunter, take over the distillery. By doing so they became the first ever female-owned distillery in Scotland.
Ian Hunter, son of Isabella, came to assist his mother and aunt a year later. He was to become a legendary figure in Laphroaig's history and be involved with the distillery for almost 50 years. The last 27 years of this were as distillery owner. He was pivotal in the growth of Laphroaig, especially in America. This included smuggling it in during the Prohibition period (1920-1933) disguised as 'medicinal antiseptic' in the now famous green bottle with white label.
When Hunter died in 1954, it saw another pioneering female figure arrive at Laphroaig. This was Bessie Williamson, who was to be distillery manager for 18 years. Following this, it was under the ownership of Allied Distillers from the late 1980s onwards that Laphroaig came to the fore as a single malt brand. The current owners are Beam Suntory.