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Issue 1 - On the edge of the world (Laphroaig)

Whisky Magazine Issue 1
January 1999

 

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On the edge of the world (Laphroaig)

The peat-reek and iodine fullness of Laphroaig is the epitome of Islay; and it has changed little since the distillery was founded in the early nineteenth century, says Neil Wilson

Laphroaig's situation , on Islay's rugged south coast, cna only impress. Bracken-clad greenstone outcrops shield the distillery from the worst of the weather coming off the bay; beyond them, on a still September day, a heron is perched motionless by the water and a seal, some distance offshore, smoothly breaks the surface. On the far side of the bay a youn roe hind looks up from its grazing. To the north the distillery's water runs sluggishly over peat; the land here was one of the distillery's best buys, since control of its water source is as vital for a distillery as for any Middle Eastern desert state.

The beginings of Laphroaig were strictly farmyard. The founding family, the Johnstons, maintained it as a small croft-distillery untiol 1815when Islay's laird, Walter Frederick Campbell, encouraged them to establish a larger two-still unit capable of selling its output in the mainland markets. The distillery gradually evolved during the 19th century until, under the direction of the founder's great-grandson, Ian Hunter, it was rebuilt with four stills. The modern-day layout is the legacy of Hunter's heir, Bessie Williamson, who arrived here in the early 1930s to 'help out' but who then stayed until her death in 1982. She took over the reins in 1954 and maintained Hunter's high standards for this unique whisky, ensuring that these were passed on to Long John Distillers who took over in the mid-sixties before eventual ownership percolated therough the corporate structures i...

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