Hugh Smith’s let­ter from Is­lay

The Oban Times - - News - Hugh Smith, 4 Flora Street, Bow­more, Is­lay PA43 7JX Tele­phone: 01496 810658.

LAPHROAIG DIS­TILLERY is an­other of the trio of whisky pro­duc­ers on the south- east coast of the is­land and is the only lo­cal dis­tillery to be granted a royal war­rant by the Prince of Wales fol­low­ing Charles’s first visit to Laphroaig in 1994.

The dis­tillery was formed by the farm­ing broth­ers Don­ald and Alexander John­son in 1815. They were of Ard­na­mur­chan stock and may have been in­volved in some il­licit dis­till­ing be­fore seek­ing re­spectabil­ity and be­com­ing li­censed dis­tillers.

In 1836, Don­ald of­fered £ 350 for his brother’s share in the dis­tillery. This was im­me­di­ately ac­cepted and Alexander em­i­grated to Aus­tralia where he died in 1881. Sadly, Don­ald died in 1847 from in­juries he re­ceived when he ac­ci­den­tally fell into a vat of par­tially-made whisky.

His heir, Du­gald, was only 11 years old at the time of his fa­ther’s death so the dis­tillery was run by his un­cle, John John­ston, as­sisted by lo­cal farmer Peter Mac­In­tyre. Du­gald took full con­trol in 1857 and con­tin­ued to be in charge un­til his death 20 years later.

The John­ston fam­ily in­volve­ment con­tin­ued for an­other four decades un­til it was in­her­ited in 1921 by trained engi­neer Iain Hunter who was to be the last of the John­ston fam­ily line.

Through­out the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies there was much dis­sen­sion be­tween the Laphroaig John­stons and the MacKie fam­ily, who were the own­ers of the neigh­bour­ing La­gavulin dis­tillery and acted as agents for Laphroaig.

The bone of con­tention arose over the Mack­ies claim­ing more than their fair share of the Laphroaig prod­uct for their blend­ing pur­poses. This led to lit­i­ga­tion which saw the MacK­ies at­tempt­ing to block the Laphroaig wa­ter sources. Ex­pen­sive court cases en­sued be­fore the MacK­ies threw in the towel.

De­spite the costs in­volved in th­ese ac­tions and the en­su­ing fi­nan­cial re­straints, Iain Hunter greatly ex­panded and im­proved the dis­tillery. He also left no stone un­turned to en­sure that Laphroaig be­came a global brand.

In 1927 he was ap­proached by the is­land laird Sir Hugh Mor­ri­son who wanted a spe­cial whisky pro­duced to mark the com­ing of age of his son and heir John Granville Mor­ri­son, later el­e­vated to the peer­age as Lord Mar­gadale. This re­sulted in the deluxe Is­lay Mist brand, now highly prized by con­nois­seurs.

In 1935 Hunter ap­pointed Bessie Wil­liamson, a Glasgow Univer­sity grad­u­ate, as his sec­re­tary and she be­gan to play an in­te­gral part in the run­ning of the dis­tillery.

Fol­low­ing the Sec­ond World War, dur­ing which Laphroaig was com­man­deered as a mil­i­tary de­pot, Bessie’s man­age­rial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties greatly in­creased as Iain Hunter’s health and mo­bil­ity di­min­ished. He died in 1954 and be­queathed the dis­tillery to Bessie who, in 1961, mar­ried the Cana­dian singer, com­poser and broad­caster Wishart Camp­bell.

By now well versed in the dis­till­ing busi­ness, Bessie greatly in­creased Laphroaig’s rep­u­ta­tion but also re­alised that for it to suc­cess­fully sur­vive it needed the sup­port of an in­ter­na­tional group to pro­vide the nec­es­sary fi­nan­cial mus­cle.

In the 1960s, the is­land dis­tillery was ac­quired by Long John In­ter­na­tional with Bessie re­main­ing at the helm and in­creas­ing her role as world am­bas­sador for the cel­e­brated Is­lay whisky.

Bessie, who re­tired from busi­ness in 1972, died in a Glasgow hos­pi­tal 10 years later. Her hus­band, who had no di­rect in­put into the work­ings of the dis­tillery, died in 1983.

To­day, Laphroaig is owned by Beam Sun­tory, which is also re­spon­si­ble for the dis­til­leries at Bow­more, Ard­more and Auchen­toshan.

Cof­fee and cakes

MEM­BERS of the Round Church are busy putting the fi­nal prepa­ra­tions in place for their sum­mer cof­fee af­ter­noon tak­ing place to­mor­row (Fri­day July 14) in the Bow­more Buf­fet Hall at 2pm.

There will be a wide va­ri­ety of home­bak­ing and pro­duce to choose from as well as other good­ies to tempt you and part you from your money.

Ad­mis­sion is £4 and pro­ceeds go to­wards the up­keep of the is­land’s most iconic A-listed build­ing.

Birth­day thanks

I AM grate­ful to fam­ily and friends who en­sured that my 80th birth­day on July 3 did not go un­marked. My sin­cere thanks for all the good wishes, gen­eros­ity and hospi­tal­ity.

I’m now in se­ri­ous train­ing in prepa­ra­tion for join­ing the nona­ge­nar­i­ans ranks. Slàinte!

Laphroaig Dis­tillery.

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