Our Master of Malt, George, returns to Islay one year after his previous blog on Laphroaig, to explore a little more of the history of the Distillery and to highlight another expression of Laphroaig that has become a firm favourite with himself and a couple of other team members at The Wild Boar.
It started with cattle feed
Around 1815 the two brothers Donald and Alexander Johnston leased 1,000 acres of land from the laird of Islay for the purpose of rearing cattle. Feed for the cattle for the long winter months had to grown in the form of barley. And, what do you do with the surplus barley? Well, ferment beer if you are English – but for a Scotsman there is only one thing – distil whisky!
Taste of Success
By 1815 the word had spread around Islay that the whisky being produced at Laphroaig was particularly good – their source of water being very soft, peaty and lacking in minerals. It soon became more profitable to distil whisky than raise cattle – and in that year Laphroaig whisky was “officially” born.
Donald gave his brother Alexander £350 for his share of Laphroaig. Alexander agreed and later immigrated to Australia leaving Donald to the whisky making. Donald died in 1847, reportedly meeting his demise by falling into a vat of partially made whisky.
The Love of Her Life
Bessie Williamson left Glasgow University with an MA in 1932 and in the depression of the early 1930s, she took on a succession of temporary appointments. She kept in touch with her uncle Willie, accountant to none other that Ian Hunter at Laphroaig and when a temporary job came up Bessie jumped at the chance and arrived with one suitcase just for the summer. She was unaware then that her time at Laphraoig would span over 40 summers and it would become the love of her life.
Ian Hunter was the last of the family line. The secrets of Laphroaig had been carefully protected by the family over the years but in Bessie he found a person that had passion, integrity and the drive to maintain the great traditions of this exquisite whisky. Over the subsequent years he passed on to her all the distillery knowledge he had acquired.
Eventually Ian, confined to a wheelchair, decided that on his death, Bessie was the only person that could maintain and develop Laphroaig’s long traditions and on his death bequeathed the distillery to her.Bessie took the reigns as one of the first woman owners and distillers in the industry and strengthened Laphraoig’s close links with island life. Bessie was a true islander, joining in with the annual peat cutting, singing Gaelic songs and dancing at the Saturday night “ceilidhs”. However, her first love remained true to Laphroaig and during her tenure, its fame and sales grew.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask
Laphroaig Quarter Cask takes its inspiration from the small casks often used for Scotch Whisky in the 19th century and frequently transported across the Glens by packhorse. As the industry grew, they fell into disuse – bigger and more cost effective barrels became the norm for maturation and transportation. However as single malt lovers may know, the relationship between the barrels and the maturing spirit is critical, the smaller barrels greatly intensifying the maturation process.
Laphroaig recreating some of the smaller barrels and experimented by transferring some still maturing Laphroaig into the Quarter Casks. For greater authenticity they barrier filtered the whisky – the method used in those far off days – and bottled at a higher alcoholic strength. The result surprised and delighted us. The additional oak influence creates a soft sweetness and velvety feel when first tasted, then the intense peatiness so unique to Laphroaig, comes bursting through. The finish is very long and alternates between the sweetness and the peat.
- NOSE: Burning embers of peat in a crofters fireplace, hints of coconut and banana aromas
- PALATE: Deep, complex and smoky yet offers and surprises the palate with a gentle sweetness
- FINISH: Really long, and dries appropriately with smoke and spice
Next Whisky Tasting Evening
Join George at our next Whisky Tasting Evenings at The Wild Boar on Tuesday 14th July 2015 when we will be discovering more about Japanese whisky making with Zoran Peric.