Flavor profile of this
typically features notes of smoky, phenols, peaty and oak.
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Laphroaig was the only 'legal' Whisky to be sold in the US during Prohibition. Officials were persuaded that Laphroaig Whisky could be used for medical purposes, since it had a strong iodine character.
One who buys any Laphroaig official bottles has the chance to own a one square foot of land, on the Laphroaig estates.
Maker's Mark is Laphroaig's main source for barrels.
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Laphroaig Distillery is located on the south coast of the Isle of Islay, and is named after the area of land at the head of Loch Laphroaig.
The distillery was founded in 1815, by brothers Alexander and Donald Johnston. They actually built the site in 1810 and started a cattle farm.
Since the Johnston Brothers were already distilling -- which became very famous in the area since it was more profitable -- in 1815, they officially announced the opening of their very own, "Laphroaig Distillery."
Donald gave up his shares, selling them to Alexander for only £350, and migrated to Australia. He passed away in 1847. And because the heir, Dugald, was just 11 years old, the distillery was taken over by Donald's uncle, John Johnston, and a local farmer, Peter McIntyre.
In 1857, Dugald took over the management with his cousin Alexander. For 20 years they managed the distillery. After the death of Alexander, the distillery was inherited by his sisters, Mrs. William Hunter and Katherine Johnston, and his nephew J. Johnston-Hunter.
The biggest issue during Dugald's and Alexander's period of ownership, was the amount of malts that were being sold to the Lagavulin Distillery for their blends. Mackie and Co. was getting half of the malt from the distillery. Under new management, Laphroaig terminated the deal, which led to some intense court cases.
In 1907, Mackie and Co. diverted the water source from the Kilbride dam, to Lagavulin, leaving Laphroaig without a water source. The courts eventually had to intervene, and rectify the situation. After a tough legal battle, Ian Hunter managed to gain full control of Laphroaig. He decided to increase the distillery's capacity.
Ian Hunter also managed to spread word of his Whisky, throughout the world, most importantly to the USA, during prohibition. He persuaded the officials that the "Iodine"aroma surely meant that Laphroaig had medicinal properties.
In the 1930s, a woman named Bessie Williamson got a summer job at the distillery. That job lasted 40 summers, and she became the manager, after Ian, in 1954. In 1967, Seager Evans bought the site and in 1975, Whitbread & Co bought Seager Evans.
Another change of hands happened in 1983, when Allied Distillers bought the spirit division of Whitbread. Nearly 10 years later, Prince Charles gave the Royal Warrant to Laphroaig in 1994, which was definitely a moment of glory for the distillery.
In 2005, Fortune Brands bought the distillery and the last takeover took place in 2014, when Beam Suntory took control. Laphroaig also recently celebrated their 200th birthday in 2015.
The water used to manufacture Laphroaig Whisky is drawn from the Kilbride dam. There are 3 wash and 4 spirit stills in the distillery. The wash stills have a capacity of 10,900 liters, and the spirit stills have capacities of 3,640 and 7,280 liters.
The stills have flat bottoms, with narrow intermediate sections to increase the interaction between the spirit and the still. Lagavulin has actually tried to imitate the shape of these stills in the past. Floor malting is still used for a portion of the production, and 80% of the maltings are sourced from Port Ellen maltings.
The malts are heavily peated. At least 90% of the barrels used in Laphroaig are American white oak, first fill Bourbon barrels. The distillery buys these barrels from the famous American distillery, Maker's Mark.
Laphroaig uses Quarter Cask barrels, Spanish Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez barrels, and barrels made of Quercus Alba oaks in maturation.
CountryUnited Kingdom, Scotland
No. of stills7
AddressLaphroaig Distillery Port Ellen Isle of Islay Argyll PA42 7DU United Kingdom
A transcript for non-audio situations
Welcome to Laphroaig Distillery. My name's John Campbell, it's my honor to be the Distillery Manager here at Laphroaig. Now over 15,000 people make a pilgrimage to Islay every year to take a tour of the facility and see what goes into making Laphroaig unique. Today I'm going to take you on a personal tour through the plant and through all of the processes that go into making Laphroaig, such an iconic brand within the Whisky industry. There's a couple of spots outside first that go into help making us unique so we're going to go there and we'll see them first. Okay.
Here we are, about 500 feet above the distillery in the hills and this is the water supply for Laphroaig. The Kilbridge Stream you can hear behind us and behind that the dam, and the Kilbride Reservoir. Five million gallons of water are kept in here and this gives the distillery the supply it needs all year round. Now in the glass here, this isn't Whisky, this is the water supply. This is the liquid from the Kilbridge Reservoir. You can see there is a lot of sediment, a lot of color. Fifteen percent of the flavor from the Whisky will actually come from the water supply. So it's really crucial we have a nice, soft, peaty water to keep the flavor profile the same. So here we are in the Kilbride Stream on it's way to the distillery and this part behind us here, which you see, plays a big part in Laphroaig's history.
Just over 100 years ago, in 1907 we had a water wars with our neighbors and this was just part of a kind of overall dispute we had with them. What they did, they took the master distiller from Laphroaig, they copied the size and shape of the stills and the last part, they diverted our water supply up, so that it could feed this distillery. We eventually got through this process and got the water going back to Laphroaig and one of the results of that was that we bought up the land that surrounds this water supply, just to be sure this could never happen again. Recently this land has been used to become the plots for the Friends of Laphroaig too. So the peated water supply is one of the things which makes us unique, and the other thing that is crucial to Laphroaig's flavor profile is peat and we're going to take you out to the peat beds and show you how we cut peat here at Laphroaig.
We're here now at the Laphroaig peat beds, a very special place for us and what we do here, this is where we cut the peat that give us the flavor in the kilns when we flavor the malted barley. So how do you cut peat? Well you need to use tools like this here. Now this is a peat cutter here, there are other associated tools with the job but this is the main one we use to harvest out of the ground. We just take it like this, and we dig it out, through the peat and out, plop it out at the side and we just hopefully get the weather, not always the case in Islay, to dry it out. Roughly take about three months to dry out. We'll then bring it back to the distillery and we'll put it in the peat shed for storage and that'll do us for the next year.
So, the peat in Islay, very different to the peat in mainland Scotland. You've got all these grasses roots and fungus decayed in here and that's what makes Islay peat unique, gives Laphroaig very kind of earthy, very medicinal flavors. These sphagnum mosses are really crucial to the flavor profile of this peat. The moisture content as well and all of these things go together to make it very different from mainland peat, because the mainland peat in Scotland is based in the old Caledonian forest, so wood based. So instead of being kind of earthy and kind of medicinal it tastes more kind of smoky and that's a real difference for Laphroaig, and one of the things that goes to making us unique.
This is the floor malting here at Laphroaig, one of only a handful left that do this process within the industry. And very unique process. What it helps us do, it helps us manipulate the smoke flavor profile of the malted barley that we'll use in the on-going processes. So there's three parts to floor malting, the first part, the steeps which you can see here behind me. The second part is the germination and the third part is the kilning. So in the background as well we're emptying a steep, so the steepings the first part. Basically what we do in steeping, we take seven ton of barley, we put it into the steep we'll then do three periods of wetting just over two days and basically what we'll have done here we'll have tricked the barley into thinking it's springtime again, and giving it the energy it needs for the next phase, the germination process.
So again we're laying it out on the floor behind us here, this is the start of the germination process and basically what happens during the process you're basically growing the grains. And if we take a look at some of the grains in here you'll be able to see that inside them there's a wee embryo, it grows a root along the inside of the grain and this puts down enzymes into the starches so when you add hot water in the mash house, they'll become soluble starches or sugars. So we'll control this process, you'll see there is a thermometer here in the floor as well, this is how we control the growth of the germination. Keeping the temperature profile at about 18 Celsius. And how do you do that in here? Simple things, opening and closing the windows basically dictate the flavor profile. How often you turn it, because to cool it down we have to flick it up in the air and that cools...the ambient temperature of air will cool the grain so the hotter it is, the more we'll have to turn it, the more we have to open the windows. Very, very traditional process, very simple process. The only thing that has changed in here over the last 100 years is the turners that we use.
Before that, these things here, the shield, this is what they used and you just nab the grain, flick it up in the air like so and this called it down. You had four or five guys just working along a row, and again just flicking it up, cooling it down. So we'll control the growth, as I've said, for six days and then the enzyme production will be at its maximum. We then basically drag it along the floor with mechanical shovels and into the kilning stage, the third part of this process. What happens here is, it's loaded into the kiln, the kiln beds maybe 15 to 18 inches deep. We then level that out with brushes and light the peat fire below that. We'll go and have a look at the kilning process now.
So this is the kiln fire and this is the place where we'll burn the peat to flavor the malted barley upstairs. You might be expecting a lot of flames, it's not hot in here, not hot at all. What we're trying to do here, we're trying to flavor and then dry, and these two separate processes go to making this part of Laphroaig unique, every other single distillery with a floor maltings will peat and dry at the same time. We peat first, then dry and this two step process really differentiates the flavor profile and it gives us some more of these tarty smoky flavors that you do associate with the brand. So what I'm going to do now, I'm going to take you upstairs and show you the peat smoke coming through the grain inside the kiln.
As you've seen, we've loaded the grain in here this morning, loaded the kiln, we've lit the peat fires and this is the result of that. The grain will stay in here for approximately 12 to 15 hours, just 15 feet above the heart of this fire and we flavor it. At the end of this process we'll have a really heavily peat flavored malt and then it goes into the next stage where we'll dry it.
Okay, so here we are in the mash house now. What I'm going to do, I'm going to take you through this box it takes you through the stages we've done so far. This one here, this is barley, what we'll have started off with in the floor maltings. The process of floor malting will take us to this, this is the malted barley so slightly different color. What we will do, up to this period, we will have it in bins and rest it for three weeks just to let the kind of, the yield become higher within the malted barley.
What we then do we grind it up through the mill and it'll form this stuff here. This is grist and the grist from the mill will take about five and a half tons to give us one mash in this vessel here. This is the lauter tun and the mashing process split into five stages. What we do is the first stage is to mix the grist with the water from the Kilbride Reservoir together. We just basically mix it up. The temperature it is mixed at is crucial to get the maximum mix as well, so 63.5 Celsius they're mixed at. They are then left to fuse for about 15 minutes again enacting some of these enzymes. And how the mash tun works is basically the grist will float on a bed of water and we'll start to drain it off through, out through the plates below and then into one of these vessels as you can see behind me. So first flush out 25,000 liters behind into the vessels, we then start to use the Kilbridge water again and we spray on top and we call it sparging, this is the second or third part of the process. We just do another couple of flushes into the vessel. When that's done we'll basically take another flush in and recycle it back to the heat tanks behind us here and what this does is any sugars and flavors we have left in the grist we'll recycle them back into the next mash. The last part of this process, the rack arms in the lauter tun here, they'll start to go counter clockwise and this pushes the spent grain of the draft out through a whole in the floor and out to the big grey tank we have out the back here. We then have lorries come in and they'll take this away to be used for cattle feed on the island. Now we do have another process in the mash house here, it's the fermentation. I'll take you over and show you what happens during that process.
So this is us in the fermentation area and we have six vessels in this area and each one is at a different stage. What we do at this point though, after we've extracted the sugary wort from the mash tun, we add this stuff here now this is yeast and this is basically the magic ingredient. What'll happen is all of the sugars and flavors we've extracted from the malt we add yeast and it turns the sugary liquid into an alcohol. And the process is very quick, just over two days and with each vessel being at a different stage you can see the fermentation process gets really vigorous at some points during the fermentation and then it kind of settles down and turns into this liquid we have in here.
Now in this vessel we have a completed fermentation, so I'm just going to take a quick sample of that and show you the liquid we have here. It also gains heat during the fermentation so from setting it at 18 Celsius as it ferments it builds up to maybe 34 Celsius and the temperature point is crucial so that we don't kill our magic ingredient in here. So nice kind of cloudy liquid here, this is 8.5% volume so it's a nice warm beer, strong beer as well. Very, very peaty, very heavy, very bitter and quite yeasty as well and very sweet. Yep, just as expected, really like liquid smoke at this point because before we distill it, this is almost three times the concentrate you'll get in the final spirit as well. Now this is ready to be pumped over to the still house to be distilled and we have an intermediate vessel called a charger in between, it will be pumped over there in the next few minutes ready for distillation.
This is the still house here at Laphroaig and again it's very much one of the things that makes us unique within the industry, because we have three wash stills going this way and four spirit stills you can see behind me here. The first distillation in these wash stills you see here basically boil up the wash from the mash house get it bubbling up and in the necks of the wash stills you can a foam, we cut the steam back and we leave it simmering. Now as it starts to simmer this is where it produces the vapors. The first thing the vapors do, you can see the copper stills here, the reason they're copper is to get a chemical reaction. This chemical reaction almost changes the formation or make-up of the vapors. And this is what allows the spirit to keep evolving during the maturation stage and this s the reason why copper is so crucial.
What then happens is the vapors rise up the neck and not all can get through the neck at the one time so you get what is called reflux. The more reflux you have, the more reaction with copper, the more chemical reactions you have so all of this changes the flavor profile. Now here at Laphroaig, we run our stills pretty slowly compared to the majority of the industry so we don't have a lot of reflux but what we do have the next thing up, the bit that links the still to the condenser unit. It's called the lyne arm and the lyne arms go up the way at Laphroaig and that is very unique within the industry. There's only four or five distilleries where they do this and because we're distilling slowly and the lyne arms go up the way, we don't push a lot of the heavy oils or flavors over into the spirit.
So even though Laphroaig's are really heavily peated spirited, it's actually quite light bodied. It is then condensed back into a liquid and collected in the safe. Now the liquid we collect from the first distillation we call low wines and basically what you'll have done, you'll have taken your 8.5% volume wash up to about 35% low wines. We just run all of the alcohol out of that, this process takes about five and a half hours and when the alcohol is out we've finished with the liquid. In the second distillation, you split it into three parts. Here on Islay we call it fore shots, you have your spirit run and then your feints. In mainland Scotland they call it heads, hearts, tails so it just depends where you are but basically it's the same principle. What we then do here at Laphroaig, we've got the longest fore shot or head run in the industry.
We kind of recycle this back in with the low wines from the first distillation for 45 minutes before we turn it around and separate out the spirit run. The spirit run here, we're wanting the heavier deeper flavor that you associate with Laphroaig flavor profile in the single malt. Now the first and the third parts that I've mentioned, the heads and the tails, or the fore shot and the feints get recycled back with the low wines from the first distillation. They're always mixed together and then put back in the spirit stills again. Again Laphroaig you can see three in the first distillation and four in the second distillation. How does that work, how can it be balanced? Well the answer is, it isn't balanced over stills. What we do here at Laphroaig is we have another tank up the back where we keep 25,000 liters of low wines, fore shot and feints all mixed up together and then we run the big still at the end, number one. It doesn't run constantly, it maybe runs once or twice over every fermentation vessel. And with this we balance over every fermentation vessel rather than a double distillation which very much separates us from the industry as well and allows us to keep the unique flavor profile of Laphroaig going.
So this is the Castile we use with 99.9% of the spirit that we use. These are American Bourbon bottles made out of American oak and these all about 200 liter. Now what worth of the Laphroig we have a special relationship with a Bourbon distillery. You see here Maker's Mark distillery. Maker's Mark do a different thing with their casks. They'll air dry them for three months longer in Kentucky in preparation for getting them ready for later use. What this does it can it opens up the wood gains further, allows the spirit to penetrate deeper and extract more of these kind of flavors you get from the oak battles. I'm just going to smell one here behind us. Fantastic, fantastic flavors come out there. Nice deep kinda wood and vanilla flavors coming through there. And this is the kind of a the great thing or good consistency with Maker's Mark casks which allows us to be very consistent in our tradition here at Laphroaig.
This is a Kilbridge area of Laphroaig and we're very lucky to have one. Bottle making really hasn't changed over the last 200 years or so. But what happened is us become whole shipped from America. We do have some repairs that we need to get done. So with that and the expansion and contraction that happened in the warehouses, we do to make some repairs and Peter's a cooper here at Laphroaig and he uses fine tools like we have here. So some we can see behind me as well. But basically what we're doing here. We'll be able to get some kind of handcrafted into the battle side of things so that we get them ready for filling and then ready for the big sleep.
Here we are inside the famous number one warehouse at Laphroaig distillery. Now, we're in a warehouse here so as you can imagine there's lots of fantastic smells in here. Just out through the wall to my left we have the Atlantic Ocean so lots of kind of sea atmosphere in here. Then with the casks maturing away a lot of alcohol in the atmosphere as well. So they're mixed plus the kind of dark, damp atmosphere in here, fantastic smell. Now as the casks are maturing away with the big sleep what happens is there's a kind of expansion and contraction through the seasons and with that the spirit goes into the cask, draws out the wood flavors and then it contracts back in the winter.
Now while the Whisky is maturing away we do lose a lot through evaporation, we call this the Angel's Share and because we're right in the Gulf stream of Islay as well we do have higher loses than you'd get in mainland Scotland. Now you might have noticed as well I've got a different size cask to my right here. This is a quarter cask and these are completely unique to Laphroaig as well. Now what happens is, with one of our brands called Quarter Cask we get the Bourbon barrels ages five up to 11 year old, we'll mix them together and we'll double mature them in these casks. And you might be thinking well it's not a quarter of a Bourbon barrel you can see behind me, it's actually quarter of a Sherry butt. A Sherry butt is a casks used for European Oak use, for the Sherry industry.
And quarter casks are basically a reintroduction of a very kind of old process, these would have originally been used about 125 year ago, one on each side of the pack horse as you go to market and the reason they're that side is two people could lift them up onto the side of the horse so smaller volume, but easier to lift. We've reintroduced this process and it's become one of our fastest growing brands over the last few years. What I think we should do now, I think we should basically pull the bung out of one of these and I can show you the color that has come in since the spirit we produced in the still house.
This is a quarter cask case, and then behind me you can see the Sherry butt as well so you get to see the scale and the difference of the size of a Sherry butt. We're just going to open this one up. Hopefully I'll be able to do this first time. Okay, so that's the bung out. We now get the valinch into the cask here, give it a wee mix so we mix the flavors up. So this is the liquid. As you can see, fantastic color, this liquid will be going for bottling in the next two or three weeks or so, so it's almost finished its journey. If we smell it, Oh, fantastic smell, even though it's really cold in here, it's almost closing the Whisky, you still get lots of vanilla, lots of oak-y flavors coming through. A real kind of bread effect in this one as well, and it's enveloped by the peaty smokey flavors you'd associate with Laphroaig as well. This is ready for bottling and so what we should do now, we need to go to the Friends of Laphroaig lounge and I'll take you and show you the rest of the family.
So, this is the Friends of Laphroaig lounge and it's here at the site of the first illicit still that the worldwide phenomenon that is Laphroaig first started off. Just below us here is where the Kilbride Stream meets the Atlantic Ocean if you like, and this is where it all started for Laphroaig. Now what is Friends of Laphroaig? Well Friends of Laphroaig was started in 1994. We have about 15,000 visitors who come to us every year but the vast majority can't come to the site. So we created a club for the friends of Laphroaig, and right now we've just got over 400,000 members so it's a pretty big club and when you come to the distillery you get to see your name in volumes like such and we have a lady here Kristin Axinge from Västra in Sweden and you can see they've signed the book as well. So that's pretty neat when they come.
What we also do is we give you a square foot of land as I've said previously up beside the water supply and we give you the coordinates for that, we send you out into the field with the cap, the boots and the jacket, the flag of your nation and you plant that on your square foot. And then we give you rent for that square foot so when you come back to the distillery, we take you into the clubhouse and we give you a dram. What could be better? The other parts about Friends of Laphroaig are the drams as well, we do exclusive bottlings for Friends of Laphroaig. This name here, Cairdeas - that's what is says here. Cairdeas means friendship in the local dialect which is Gaelic and Cairdeas is a brand which is exclusive to Friends of Laphroaig. So every year, normally about the Whisky festival on Islay so the bank holiday in May, we produce a bottling exclusively for Friends of Laphroaig and that's offered up online as well. With some Friends Whisky, I'd just like to say Slainte to the Friends all around the world.
So we've taken you the tour, and all the way through the process that goes into making the Laphroaig spirit unique, let's meet the family. Here they are. First one here, this is the 10 Year Old Laphroaig, the main brand within the Laphroaig family and by far the most popular. We've got 10 Year Old Cask Strength just to the right here. What's the difference? Well it's basically the strength of alcohol and the way we bottle it. We bottle it basically just barrier filtered the 10 Year Old Cask Strength, put it into a bottle and we do it in smaller batches so that we get variation and we're hoping to do different batches every year so there is slight variation within this one.
Over here, this is Quarter Cask which is a rising star within the Laphroaig family, the one with the most momentum, gaining the most sales, just really, really popular. We then have an extension of the Quarter Cask family with Triple Wood. So Quarter Cask is two woods, Triple Wood is three wood. The third wood is Oloroso Sherry European Oak finish on this one as well. Maybe a couple of years in a Sherry casks and then into the bottle for lot. This side, 18 Year Old 100% Bourbon barrels again and 18 years old, slightly differently bottled, non-chill filtered, 48% alcohol. Then, the last one at the end, 25 Year Old. Twenty-five year old is a mix of Sherry and Bourbon barrels. It's 40% Sherry, 60% Bourbon so you get a mix of flavors in this one that you don't associate with the normal Laphroaig's. So that's the end of the tour, I really hope you enjoyed it and maybe we can get you to Islay some day. Slainte!