Laphroaig: History

The Johnstons, who started Laphroaig Distillery, were of MacDonald stock, being descenders of MacIan of Ardnamurchan. After the 1745 rebellion, three brothers of this Clan came to Islay to farm - Roland at Corairan, Alexander at Tigh Cargaman, now Port Ellen and Duncan at Tallant. Two sons of Alexander, Donald and Alexander, started farming at Laphroaig some time between 1810 and 1816. They started a small distillery there. Donald Johnston is entered with the Excise as Distiller in 1826. He bought out his brother in 1836 and became the sole owner. The land was then owned by the Campbells and he was their tenant.

Donald died in June 1847. He had survived only two days after falling into a 'Burnt Ale' vat at the distillery. Donald had been married twice. He left one son and four daughters by his first wife and one child of his second marriage. He left no will but had deposited in the bank at Bridgend 250 for each of the daughters of his first marriage. His son, Dugald, was then only eleven and there was no one to run the distillery. It was leased to Graham of Lagavulin for nine years until Dugald became of age to take over. The trustees of the estate were the above mentioned, Graham and his cousin John Johnston of Tallant, who had married Donald's sister Mary. Dugald took over the running of the distillery in 1857 and the Lagavulin people continued as agents until 1907 when the agency was terminated.

Dugald Johnston continued as Distiller until he died in 1877. He left no heir. As his sister, Isabella, had married Alexander Johnston of Tallant, he became the next Distiller and ran the distillery on behalf of his wife and her sisters. He died in 1907 having been pre-deceased by his wife, who had left her share of the distillery to him. After his death there was a long court case which culminated in the distillery being inherited by his two sisters, Mrs William Hunter and Miss Katherine Johnston, and his nephew, Mr J Johnston Hunter, who was then Chief Engineer with Glasgow Tramways lived in Lenzie.

In 1908, Mrs William Hunter's son, Ian Hunter, who had completed his training as an engineer, was sent to Islay to look after the interests of his mother and his aunt. Ian Hunter's father was a seed merchant in Leith and his Aunt was farming at Tallant Farm in Islay.

During the period 1877 to 1907, the distillery appears to have prospered and the following buildings were erected - Byre in 1884; Laphroaig House was also re-built in 1884; Stables in 1888; and No.3 Warehouse in 1889. Mackie and Company (Lagavulin) seem to have taken over most of the output and, after Mr Alex Johnston's death, the new owners felt they were not getting a fair deal and took Mr Mackie to court, terminating his agreement as agent. He was so- annoyed that he gave instructions to his men to pull out the stones at the lade so that no water would come down to Laphroaig. After a court case, he was required to put things right and restore the water supply. He decided to make Malt Mill Whisky with stills the same as those at Laphroaig and he also enticed Laphroaig's Brewer to work for him at Lagavulin. However, despite his having Laphroaig's Brewer, he did not make anything like Laphroaig Whisky.

Because of the various court cases, money was difficult when Mr Ian Hunter came to Islay. He had quite a struggle to keep things going, particularly as a new lease was due to be made with the owners, Ramsay of Kildalton. Mackie and Company, Lagavulin, had put in a higher offer to rent Laphroaig. However, eventually everything was straightened out and in 1921, the owners decided to sell the estate and gave the Distillers the first opportunity to buy the land. This applied to Ardbeg and Lagavulin as well as Laphroaig. Again Mackie tried to outbid Laphroaig without success. After the completion of the purchase, it was decided to increase the capacity of Laphroaig and, by 1923, the capacity was doubled and the Maltings, as they now stand, were completed. A new wash still and spirit still, duplicates of the existing stills, were erected.

The agents at that time were Robertson & Baxter, who were very helpful to Mr Hunter during the re-building and afterwards.

About 1927, Mr Hunter decided to terminate the agency with Robertson & Baxter and sell direct from Laphroaig. He continued to do this until he died and his policy was carried on until Long John took over in 1972. The distillery had its ups and downs, particularly in the 1930's, but managed to struggle through and maintain its good name in the blending trade.

In 1928, the Laird of Islay House asked Mr Hunter to supply whisky for his son's coming of age (now Lord Margedale) and it was then that the blend Islay Mist was created. It was thought that Laphroaig might be too heavy for everyone's tastes so a de-luxe blend of Malt Whisky and Grain was made up. It proved so popular that it was decided to market it commercially and it has become known in many parts of the world as de-luxe blend with the Islay peaty flavour. It was not until after the War that it was exported in any quantity and McPherson, Train & Co. were appointed export agents.

Laphroaig continued to be popular as a Single Islay Malt Whisky and also much in demand as a blending whisky. During the 1960's and 1970's, under the guidance of Long John, the distillery capacity was increased without losing any of the old character of Laphroaig.

Mr Ian Hunter inherited the distillery when his mother died in 1928 (his Aunt died in 927 and his cousin in 1922) and ran it as sole partner until 1950, when he made it into a private limited company with himself as Managing Director, Miss B Williamson as Secretary and Director and his lawyer, Mr D McCowan Hill as Director. Mr Hunter died in 1954 after a long illness (arterial sclerosis) and Miss Williamson succeeded as Managing Director. She continued in this capacity until Long John took over control in 1967 when she continued as Chairman and Director until 1972 when she retired.

The cottages at Laphroaig were started in 1939 but, owing to the war, only one block was completed and the others could not be built until 1945 when Mr Hunter was able to obtain a permit and was the first in Islay to start building at the end of the War.

No.7 Warehouse was built in 1928/29 and No's 1 and 2 Warehouses in the 1930's.

Laphroaig is now one of the single malts within Caledonian Malt Whisky Distillers, the specialist malt marketing whisky division of Allied Distillers Limited. The portfolio also includes The Glendronach, Miltonduff and The Tormore.

© Allied Distillers 1995

(OCR-scanned document)

For further information, please contact:

Miss Silvia Corrieri
Caledonian Malt Whisky Distillers
2 Glasgow Road
Dumbarton
G82 1ND
Scotland

Tel: 01389 65111

Back ...