is a Norse-Gaelic hybrid which means the ‘hollow of
broad Bay’. The distillery was founded by the two
brothers Donald and Axel Johnston. As so many other
distillers at the time the two farmers only started
their production to satisfy their own domestic needs.
However the whisky from Laphroaig quickly became
well-known due to the quality of the water they used and
to the natural talent of the Johnston brothers.
Naturally they soon began to sell some of their whisky
for a nice profit. This illegal business was made easier
since the area surrounding Laphroaig was ideal for
Because of the illegal beginning, the
early history of the distillery is not completely known.
However Laphroaig officially claim that they were
founded in 1815. We also know that Laphroaig gained
their licence in 1826. Donald Johnston bought his
brother’s share of the company in 1836 and ran Laphroaig
himself until his death in 1847. By then his son Dugald
was only eleven years old and could not take over the
business immediately. The business was therefore leased
to a trustee of Johnston’s estate, a man named Alexander
Graham who also ran Lagavulin. Dugald took over in 1857
and ran the company until 1877 when he died. Alexander
Johnston became the new owner and continued to develop
Laphroaig which by then already was a highly appreciated
At the turn of the century Laphroaig
wished to cancel Lagavulin’s agency which still remained
from the time when Alexander Graham was alive. This
created some tension between the two companies and they
met in court several times until 1907 when the lease ran
out and Laphroaig refused to renew the contract. Mackie
and Co, the current owners of Lagavulin, responded by
cutting off Laphroaig’s water supply. This resulted in
another round at court which Laphroaig won. In 1908
Mackie and Co bought over the distillery manager at
Laphroaig. Their goal was to create exact copies of the
stills at Laphroaig and create an identical whisky. The
venture failed and Mackie and Co instead made several
offers to buy Laphroaig but their offers were turned
down every time. Ian Hunter took over Laphroaig in 1921
and made several modernizations, for example the
production capacity was doubled in 1923. Ian Hunter also
introduced the concept of storing the whisky in bourbon
During WW2 production was completely shut
down since Laphroaig was used as a garrison. Ian Hunter
died heirless in 1954, but in his will he left the
entire distillery to Bessie Williamson. Bessie was the
niece of his accountant and had worked at Laphroaig ever
since one summer in the thirties when she had been
appointed Ian’s temporary secretary. She was a pragmatic
owner and soon realised that Laphroaig needed a strong
financial partner to meet the increasing competition.
She therefore sold the company to Long John in the
sixties. In 1990 Laphroaig was bought by Allied
Distillers which are the current owners. In 1994 Prince
Charles visited the distillery and presented them with
the Royal Warrant. A Royal Warrant is an official
approval that can only be bestowed by a few members of
the royal family. By giving this honour to the Laphroaig
distillery Prince Charles declared that he is of the
opinion that Laphroaig is the best whisky in the world.
The Laphroaig fan club is named ‘Friends
of Laphroaig’. You may become a member if you buy a
bottle of Laphroaig and register the bottle’s barcode at
their website. As a member you will also be the owner of
one square foot of Islay just outside the distillery.
Laphroaig use water from Kilbride Dam
which has a soft and very peaty character. The
reason that the water is so soft is that it flows over
granite and therefore does not pick up any unwanted
minerals. The Barley used is called Optic.
Laphroaig malt 30 percent of the barley themselves, the
rest is bought from Port Ellen Maltings. The peat comes
from Laphroaig’s own bogs which lie east of Loch
Indaal. Kelp and seaweed are often washed ashore
when the sea is high and the wind blows inland. This
gives Laphroaig’s peat a different character and is one
reason for the unique taste of Laphroaig whisky.
The kilns at Laphroaig are from 1840.
After the malted barley is peated to a ppm of 35 it is
left to harden for a month before it is taken into the
mill house. The Porteus Mill at Laphroaig is almost 60
years old and also one of the oldest in use. The Mash
Tun holds 8.5 tons and their six washbacks each hold
42 500 litres. The washbacks are made from stainless
steel since is makes it easier to keep them clean and
free of unwanted particles and bacteria.
have seven stills; three wash stills and four spirit
stills. The wash stills are onion-shaped and hold 10 500
litres each. Three of the four spirit stills hold 4 700
litres while the fourth has a capacity of 9 400 litres.
The warehouses are located on-site very close to the
seashore. All storage is done in first-fill bourbon
casks. Half of the production is used for making single
malt whisky, and the other half is sold to the blended
industry. In 2002 the annual production was 1.9 million
Isle of Islay
Argyll, PA42 7DU
Visitors: Laphroaig welcome visitors all year
round. Guided tours start at 10.15 am and 2.15 pm. Make
sure to book in advance. Production is closed down in
July/August due to maintenance. The
admission is free.
The visitor centre feels fresh and welcoming and has a
very nice bar. They also have a museum which tells the
history about Laphroaig. If you are a member of Friends
of Laphroaig you get a free 5ml dram as ‘interest’ for
your square foot of Islay.
Did you find this text particularly interesting? Is
there something you miss? Do you wish to read more about some other
topic, a particular distillery, whiskey or whisky? Drop us a line! We at
The Whisky Guide always strive to improve our service, and we welcome
your thoughts and comments.