Brothers Alexander and Donald Johnston built their distillery on the south coast of Islay in 1815. It took its name from the land at the head of Loch Laphroaig and is thought to be derived from the Gaelic for ‘the hollow of Broadbay’. Laphroaig whisky rose to prominence at the turn of the 20th century, when Donald’s great-grandson, Ian Hunter, took the helm. When Hunter arrived at the distillery in 1908, money was tight following various court cases with Laphroaig’s former agent Mackie & Co. Despite financial difficulties, Hunter was able to double the capacity of the distillery, adding the Maltings and a new wash and spirit still by 1923.
A woman’s touch
Hunter took over distribution in 1927, and made extensive international sales trips, increasing the popularity of Laphroaig as a single malt while maintaining its demand as a blending whisky. Following the repeal of US Prohibition in the 1930s, Hunter made many trips to America, which included sourcing ex-bourbon barrels for maturation. These casks soon became the norm at the distillery, adding to the whisky’s distinct sweet note. During these trips, management of the distillery was left in the hands of Hunter’s secretary, Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Williamson, and upon his death in 1954, Williamson took over as Managing Director. The distillery flourished under Williamson’s management and she is quoted as saying “we can’t supply the demand we have for our whisky”. Williamson continued as Managing Director when the distillery was acquired by Long John Distillers in 1962, with a place on the parent company’s board until her retirement in 1972. Williamson was the only female to own and run a Scottish distillery in the 20th century.
By royal appointment
Laphroaig is the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, who visited the distillery in 1994. Charles had long been a fan of the 15-year-old expression and awarded the warrant in person telling then distillery manager Iain Henderson “I think you make the finest whisky in the world.” To this day, every bottle of Laphroaig carries the distinctive seal on its label. Although the 15-year-old has been discontinued, the core range features the iconic 10-year-old, the limited release 25-year-old and four non-age statement expressions – Lore, Select, Triple Wood and Quarter Cask.
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