Hugh Smith’s let­ter from Is­lay

The Oban Times - - News -

La­gavulin Dis­tillery

LA­GAVULIN is one of the three dis­til­leries op­er­at­ing in the Kil­dal­ton dis­trict of Is­lay and sit­u­ated north of the vil­lage of Port Ellen. It stands in a sceni­cally pleas­ing area and looks over the pic­turesque La­gavulin Bay and the ru­ined re­mains of Dun­y­vaig Cas­tle, once a bas­tion of the pow­er­ful MacDon­ald Lords of the Isles.

The area was a hive of il­licit whisky dis­till­ing be­fore Archibald Camp­bell built a le­gal dis­tillery on the La­gavulin site in early 1800s. This may have gone un­der the name of the Ard­more dis­tillery and is likely to have been in op­er­a­tion up un­til 1821.

Lo­cal farmer John John­ston, whose fam­ily mem­bers were dis­till­ing pi­o­neers, estab­lished La­gavulin in 1816, and nine years later took over the own­er­ship of the other dis­tillery on the site. A decade later he closed the Ard­more op­er­a­tion and died soon af­ter­wards in 1836.

The dis­til­leries were then pur­chased by Glas­gow spirit mer­chant Alex Gra­ham, who merged the two prop­er­ties which then be­gan to op­er­ate as La­gavulin in 1837.

In 1852, Alex Gra­ham’s son, John Craw­ford Gra­ham, took over and he con­tin­ued at the helm un­til 1862 when the dis­tillery was pur­chased by whisky blender James Lo­gan MacKie.

His nephew, Peter J MacKie, even­tu­ally took over the pro­duc­tion at La­gavulin and also held the agency at nearby Laphroaig. Peter, who was later knighted, was a go-get­ter ex­traor­d­i­naire and went on to cre­ate the iconic and world fa­mous White Horse blend and was the co-founder of the Craigel­lachie Dis­tillery in the heart of Spey­side.

He even­tu­ally had to for­feit his Laphroaig con­nec­tion mainly through his high-handed at­ti­tude which saw a num­ber of lit­i­ga­tions in­volv­ing prod­uct and own­er­ship is­sues.

His ir­ri­ta­tion at los­ing the Laphroaig agency led him in 1908 to build a replica dis­tillery at La­gavulin which he called the Malt Mill. It op­er­ated un­til 1962 and al­though its aim was to pro­duce the same char­ac­ter as Laphroaig, its close neigh­bour, it never achieved this end.

A rare bot­tle of ‘Malt Mill’

was re­cently un­earthed to the de­light of col­lec­tors and whisky con­noiseurs, but, hap­pily, it re­mains in safe­keep­ing and un­corked.

A fic­ti­tious cask of ‘Malt Mill’ played a ma­jor part in the Ken Loach film com­edy The An­gels’ Share.

What was the Malt Mill now houses the dis­tillery’s vis­i­tors’ cen­tre and ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fices.

In 1924, La­gavulin was taken un­der the wing of the White Horse Dis­tillers be­fore be­com­ing part of the Dis­tillers Com­pany Ltd op­er­a­tions three years later. The DCL own­er­ship lasted un­til 1986 when it was then taken over by United Dis­tillers.

The dis­tillery closed in 1941 and re­mained so un­til the hos­til­i­ties ceased in 1945.

A se­ri­ous fire within the build­ing in 1951 caused ex­ten- sive dam­age to the prop­erty which has been owned by the drinks gi­ant Di­a­geo since 1997.

La­gavulin is the only one of the is­land’s eight dis­til­leries cur­rently hav­ing a young lady in charge of the pro­ceed­ings. She is lo­cal girl Ge­orgie Craw­ford who has held the man­age­rial reins since 2010.

Win­ning hote­liers

CON­GRAT­U­LA­TIONS are due to Bal­ly­grant Inn and restau­rant pro­pri­etor David Gra­ham and his son Ewan who, in the face strong op­po­si­tion, re­ceived the top award for their bar in the Best Craft Spirit Se­lec­tion cat­e­gory at the 2017 Scot­tish En­ter­tain­ment and Hos­pi­tal­ity Awards cer­e­mony re­cently held in Glas­gow’s Mer­chant City.

The pre­sen­ta­tion cer­e­mony was a glit­ter­ing af­fair and top­ping the en­ter­tain­ment was singer Tony Christie who still re­mains un­sure of the way to Amar­illo!

Guests and cus­tomers were re­spon­si­ble for the ini­tial nom­i­na­tions and the Bal­ly­grant hote­liers are de­lighted with their suc­cess and grate­ful to their sup­port­ers.

The is­land hostelry has also en­joyed win­ning suc­cess in the Na­tional Pub and Bar Awards af­ter be­ing named county win­ners for the Argyll and Bute re­gion.

They are also short listed for the Scot­tish Field mag­a­zine whisky awards and the over­all na­tional bar and pub awards. Well done and we wish you fur­ther suc­cesses. Hugh Smith, 4 Flora Street, Bow­more, Is­lay PA43 7JX Tele­phone: 01496 810 658

La­gavulin Dis­tillery traces its his­tory back to the early 1800s.

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