Owner: Fortune Brands/Jim Beam
Water: Kilbride Dam
Stills: 3 wash 4 spirit
Capacity: 2.700.000 Litres per year
Old Style Laphroaig: pre 1977.
Fortunately Laphroaig is one of the few whiskies that has been bottled in its single malt form for over a century. This means that there are examples of it to be found from almost every decade during the past 100 years however as always you should beware of old fakes, sadly there are many fake Laphroaigs about. There are many genuine examples of the spirit from times gone past though and they are almost all spectacular. These Laphroaigs, distilled before the modernisations of the mid-late seventies, are among the finest whiskies ever produced and are markedly different from modern bottlings. The style is much more fruit led like many older style malts. Lots of tropical passion fruit traits with very complex phenoilc, medicinal, peat and coastal characteristics. Old Laphroaigs often display a much broader complexity and drier, more rustic, rooty peat style. Bottlings that can still be found quite easily are the official 10 and 15yos. The ones bottled in the eighties and before are all fantastic although the further back in time you go the higher the price goes. There were also several phenomenal aged examples bottled by Signatory in the early to mid nineties originating from the late sixties and one dark sherry cask from 1974, these are all incredible bottlings. The greatest were single casks bottled for Italy in the eighties by Samaroli and Gordon & MacPhail however these bottlings are now incredibly rare and expensive.
Modern Era: 1977- current day.
Although Laphroaig converted its stills from direct firing and worm tubs in the late sixties the style remained largely old school until the late seventies when it started to take progressively more and more malt from Port Ellen maltings and reduce the use of its own malt floors. The introduction of stronger yeast strains and stainless steel washbacks, all designed to speed up production, all contributed to its evolution of character. Currently Lphroaig uses as little as 10 percent of its own malt. The most important change with Laphroaig in recent times though is the wood policy. From the late eighties onwards there has been a progressive trend towards more and more first fill bourbon wood. First fill ex-Maker's Mark barrels now account for almost all casks filled at Laphroaig. This has stripped the whisky of much of its fruit character and it now displays typically intensely sweet phenols with oily, medicinal flavours and thick peat smoke. There are still fantastic Laphroaigs to found however, in recent years independent bottlings have increased rapidly and many refill hoggies have displayed fantastically pristine, dry, coastal and phenolic characters. There are many great independent bottlings available from the late eighties and early nineties as well, 1990 in particular seems to be very good year with many great bottlings, particularly from Signatory.
Laphroaig is still a world class whisky and many bottlings still continue to impress however it is sad to see such mass production approaches to whisky making changing the spirit so dramatically.