Whisky doesn’t get more distinctive than Laphroaig. The Islay whisky distillery is known for its Marmite, love-it-or-hate-it spirit, one that’s full of pungent ashy smoke, medicinal peat, TCP, and seaspray. It’s also well known that King Charles III is a big fan.
Intensity and individuality are the name of the game and the whisky maker has plenty of people to thank for creating this identity. Our Whisky of the Week, Laphroaig Lore, pays tribute to them. Hence the name Lore. You probably already worked out. Let’s get on with it.
A whole lotta lore
Dripping in Laphroaig lore (not the whisky) is Ian Hunter, known as the man who made Laphroaig. The last of the Johnston family to own and manage the distillery, between 1908 and 1944 he meticulously dedicated himself to growing what was the smallest producer on the island. By the time he died, Laphroaig was the biggest. A lot of the infrastructure that is there today was established by Hunter, who also improved the quality of the spirit and was meticulous about cask selection, becoming one of the first Scotch whisky producers to establish a consistent supply of American white oak. According to Laphroaig, he is the reason the distillery still has floor maltings today.
Then there’s Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Williamson, the first woman to manage a Scotch whisky distillery during the 20th century. She built on Hunter’s success and became a huge figure in the industry, travelling the Americas as the Scotch Whisky Association’s ambassador in the 1960s, right at the beginning of the modern single malt movement. She’s credited with steering the distillery through the Second World War, forging a reputation as a fair local employer, and securing Laphoraig’s future by negotiating new ownership. Williamson was also ahead of the curve with her understanding of the social and environmental impact of whisky.
These are people worth raising a dram to. As is the man who created Lore itself, a certain John Campbell. Lots of whisky fans will recognise the name as, even though he left in 2021 for Lochlea, Campbell spent more than a quarter of a century at Laphroaig, becoming the longest-serving distillery manager in its history. His departure was so significant we dedicated a whole blog to it.
How is Laphroaig whisky made?
To create Laphroaig Lore, Campbell used a combination of casks including first-fill sherry butts and quarter casks to elevate the richer side of the single malt, as well as some of the distillery’s “most precious stock”. The balancing act here is to ensure that the most medicinal of all the Islay whiskies isn’t tempered too much.
Laphroaig can thank Islay peat for its characteristic smokiness. Around three-quarters of it is malted at Port Ellen Malting, while the rest is processed at Laphraoig’s own traditional floor maltings using local Machrie moss peat which cold smokes the barley. The peat’s composition features a lot of seaweed, imbuing it with a salty, iodine flavour, while the distillery malts its barley at a different temperature than most distilleries to draw out more phenols like creosols and glycols which produce that tarry profile.
Creating its signature style also relies on an unusual set-up of three small and one large spirit still. Initially, there were just two stills, then by 1924 there were four stills, all similar to the same size they are now, then up to six in the 1940s/1950s. In 1967, however, things changed. A seventh still was added and Laphroaig moved from coal-fired to steam heating. The distillery also established its one big, double-size still and three small stills in the second distillation, which created more heavy, cereal-forward flavours in the bigger still and fruitier elements in the small still.
In a whisky like Lore, cask quality is vital too. Laphroaig makes great spirit using the above process, but there’s no point in putting that in cheap wood. Quarter casks, in particular, are tricky given how extractive they are. Being owned by Beam Suntory, however, means Laphroaig has easy access to quality casks. American oak from the likes of Maker’s Mark is of premium standard because the company insists on a certain standard of barrel that has been air dried adequately (Maker’s Mark do about nine months compared to the standard six) to open the wood more and take out the heavier, oakier flavours.
What does Laphroaig Lore taste like?
So, now we know the stories, we know how the whisky is made, and we know that the King will have probably read this. I’m being silly, of course. He definitely will have (hiya, Charlie). Now all there’s left to do is taste Laphroaig Lore. Here’s a video of me doing just that and a full tasting note too.
Nose: The pungency of the peat smoke is tempered but not tamed with marmalade, candied tropical fruit, blackcurrant cough sweets, and honey-roasted peanuts, as well as burnt straw, TCP, and a constant reminder of those medicinal, ashy aromas you expect.
Palate: Richer and sweeter than you might expect from Laphroaig, with cooking chocolate, chilli jam, cured bacon, and dried fruit among the smoke and brine. The palate has an oiliness that shines with a drop of water.
Finish: Dry and smoky with a custardy vanilla element, fruitcake, floral honey, and rich spice.