Laphroaig Distillery Tour


Welcome to Laphroaig Distillery. My name’s
John Campbell, it’s my honour to be the Distillery Manager here at Laphroaig. Now over 15,000
people make a pilgrimage to Islay every year to take a tour of the facility and see what
goes into making Laphroaig unique. Today I’m going to take you on a personal tour through
all of the processes that go into making Laphroaig, such an iconic brand within the whisky industry.
There’s a couple of spots outside first that go into help making us unique so we’re going
to go there and we’ll see them first. Ok here we are, about 500 feet above the distillery
in the hills and this is the water supply for Laphroaig. The Kilbridge Stream you can
hear behind us and behind that the damn, and the Kilbride Reservoir. 5 million gallons
of water are kept in here and this gives the distillery the supply it needs all year round.
Now in the glass here, this isn’t whisky – this is the water supply. This is the liquid from
the Kilbridge Reservoir. You can see there is a lot of sediment, a lot of colour. 15%
of the flavour from the whisky will actually come from the water supply so it’s really
crucial we have a nice, soft, peaty water to keep the flavour profile the same. So here
we are in the Kilbride Stream on it’s way to the distillery and this part behind us
here, which you see, plays a big part in Laphroaig’s history. Just over 100 years ago, in 1907
we had a water wars with our neighbours and this was just part of a kind of overall dispute
we had with them. What they did, they took the master distiller from Laphroaig, they
copied the size and shape of the stills and the last part, they diverted our water supply
up, so that it could feed this distillery. We eventually got through this process and
got the water going back to Laphroaig and one of the results of that was that we bought
up the land that surrounds this water supply, just to be sure this could never happen again.
Recently this land has been used to become the plots for the Friends of Laphroaig too.
So the peated water supply is one of the things which makes us unique, and the other thing
that is crucial to Laphroaig’s flavour profile is peat and we’re going to take you out to
the peat beds and show you how we cut peat here at Laphroaig. We’re here now at the Laphroaig peat beds,
a very special place for us and what we do here, this is where we cut the peat that give
us the flavour in the kilns when we flavour the malted barley. So how do you cut peat?
Well you need to use tools like this here. Now this is a peat cutter here, there are
other associated tools with the job but this is the main one we use to harvest out of the
ground. We just take it like this, and we dig it out, through the peat and out, plop
it out at the side and we just hopefully get the weather – it’s not always the case in
Islay to dry it out. It will take roughly 3 months to dry out. We’ll then bring it back
to the distillery and we’ll put it in the peat shed for storage and that’ll do us for
the next year. So the peat in Islay, very different to the peat in mainland Scotland.
You’ve got all these grasses roots and fungus decayed in here and that’s what makes Islay
peat unique. Gives Laphroaig very kind of earthy, very medicinal flavours. These mosses
are really crucial to the flavour profile of this peat. The moisture content as well
and all of these things go together to make it very different from mainland peat, because
the mainland peat in Scotland is based in the old Caledonian forest so it’s wood based.
So instead of being earthy and medicinal it tastes more kind of smokey and that’s a real
difference for Laphroaig and one of the things that goes to making us unique. This is the floor maltings here at Laphroaig,
one of only a handful left that do this process within the industry. A very unique process.
What it helps us do, it helps us manipulate the smoke flavour profile of the malted barley
that we’ll use in the on-going processes. So there’s three parts to floor malting, the
first part, the steeps which you can see here behind me. The second part is the germination
and the third part is the kilning. So in the background we’re empty the steep, so the steeping
is the first part. Basically what we do in steeping is we take seven ton of barley, we
put it into the steep we’ll then do three periods of wetting just over two days and
basically what we’ll have done here is tricked the barley into thinking it’s springtime again,
giving it the energy it needs for the next phase, the germination process. So we’re laying
it out on the floor behind us here, this is the start of the germination process and basically
what happens during the process is you’re basically growing the grains and if we take
a look at some of the grains in here you’ll be able to see that inside them there is a
small embryo, it grows a root along the inside of the grain and this puts down enzymes into
the starches so when you add hot water in the mash house, they’ll become soluble starches,
sugars. We’ll control this process – you’ll see there is a thermometer here in the floor,
this is how we control the growth of the germentation. Keeping the temperature profile at about 18
Celsius. And how do you do that in here? Simple things, opening and closing the windows basically
dictates the flavour profile; how often you turn it because to cool it down we have to
flick it up in the air and the ambient temperature of the air will cool the grain so the hotter
it is, the more we’ll have to turn it and the more we’ll have to open the windows. Very,
very traditional process and a very simple process. The only thing that has changed in
here over the last 100 years is the turners that we use. Before that, these things here,
the shiel, this is what they used and you just nab the grain, flick it up in the air
like so and this called it down. You had four or five guys just working along a row, and
again just flicking it up, cooling it down. So we’ll control the growth, as I’ve said,
for 6 days and then the enzyme production will be at it’s maximum. We then basically
drag it along the floor with mechanical shovels and into the kilning stage, the third part
of this process. What happens here is, it’s loaded into the kiln, the kiln beds are maybe
15 to 18 inches deep. We then level that out with brushes and light the peat fire below
that. We’ll go and have a look at the kilning process now. So this is the kiln fire and this is the place
we’ll burn the peat to flavour the malted barley upstairs. You might be expecting a
lot of flames, it’s not hot in here, not hot at all. What we’re trying to do here, we’re
trying to flavour and then dry, and these two separate processes go to making this part
of Laphroaig unique. Every other single distillery with a floor malting will peat and dry at
the same time. We peat first, then dry and this two step process really differentiates
the flavour profile and gives us these smokey flavours you do associate with the brand.
So what I’m going to do now, I’m going to take you upstairs and show you the peat smoke
coming through the grain inside
the kiln. As you’ve seen, we’ve loaded the grain in here this morning, loaded the kiln,
lit the peat fires and this is the result of that. The grain will stay in here for approximately
12 to 15 hours, just 15 feet above the heart of this fire and we flavour it. At the end
of this process we’ll have a really heavily peated flavoured malt and then it goes into
the next stage where we’ll dry it. So here we are in the mash house now. What
I’m going to do, I’m going to take you through this box it takes you through the stages we’ve
done so far. This one here, this is barley – what we started off with in the floor maltings.
The process of floor malting will take us to this, this is the malted barley so slightly
different colour. What we will do, up to this period, we will have it in bins and rest it
for three weeks just to let the kind of yield become higher within the malted barley. What
we then do we grind it up through the mill and it’ll form this stuff here. This is grist
and the grist from the mill will take about five and a half tons to give us one mash in
this vessel here. This is the lauter tun and the mashing process is split into five stages.
What we do is the first stage is to mix the grist with the water from the Kilbride Reservoir
together and we basically mix it up. The temperature it is mixed at is crucial to get the maximum
mix as well, so 63.5 Celsius they’re mixed at. They are then left to fuse for about 15
minutes again activating some of these enzymes. And how the mash tun works is basically the
grist will float on a bed of water and we’ll start to drain it off through, out through
the plates below and then into one of these vessels as you can see behind me. So first
flush out 25,000 litres behind into the vessels, we then start to use the Kilbridge water again
and we spray on top and we call it sparging, this is the second or third part of the process.
We just do another couple of flushes into the vessel. When that’s done we’ll basically
take another flush in and recycle it back to the heat tanks behind us here and what
this does is any flavour or sugars we have left in the grist we’ll recycle them back
into the next mash. The last part of this process is the rack arms in the lauter tun
here, they’ll start to go counter clockwise and this pushes the spent grain out through
a whole in the floor and out to the big grey tank we have out the back here. We then have
lorries come in and they’ll take this away to be used for cattle feed on the island.
Now we do have another process in the mash house here, it’s the fermentation. I’ll take
you over and show you what happens during that process. So this is us in the fermentation
area and we have six vessels in this area and each one is at a different stage. What
we do at this point though, after we’ve extracted the sugary wort from the mash tun, we add
this stuff here now this is yeast and this is basically the magic ingredient. What’ll
happen is all of the sugars and flavours we’ve extracted from the malt we add yeast and it
turns the sugary liquid into an alcohol. And the process is very quick, just over two days
and with each vessel being at a different stage you can see the fermentation process
gets really vigorous at some points during the fermentation and then it kind of settles
down and turns into this liquid we have in here. Now in this vessel we have a completed
fermentation, so I’m just going to take a quick sample of that and show you the liquid
we have here. It also gains heat during the fermentation so from setting it at 18 Celsius
as it ferments it builds up to maybe 34 Celsius and the temperature point is crucial so that
we don’t kill our magic ingredient in here. So nice kind of cloudy liquid here, this is
8.5% volume so it’s a nice warm beer, strong beer as well. Very, very peaty, very heavy,
very bitter and quite yeasty as well – and very sweet. Yep, just as expected, really
like liquid smoke at this point because before we distill it, this is almost three times
the concentrate you’ll get in the final spirit as well. Now this is ready to be pumped over
to the still house to be distilled and we have an intermediate vessel called a charger
in between – it will be pumped over there in the next few minutes ready for distillation. This is the still house here at Laphroaig
and again it’s very much one of the things that makes us unique within the industry,
because we have three wash stills going this way and four spirit stills you can see behind
me. The first distillation in these wash stills you see here basically boil up the wash from
the mash house get it bubbling up and in the necks of the wash stills you can a foam, we
cut the steam back and we leave it simmering. Now as it starts to simmer this is where it
produces the vapour. The first thing the vapours do, you can see the copper stills here – the
reason they’re copper is to get a chemical reaction. This chemical reaction almost changes
the formation of the make-up of the vapours. And this is what allows the spirit to keep
evolving during the maturation stage and this is the reason why copper is so crucial. What
then happens is the vapours rise up the neck and not all can get through the neck at the
one time so you get what is called reflux. The more reflux you have, the more reaction
with copper, the more chemical reactions you have so all of this changes the flavour profile.
Now here at Laphroaig, we run our stills pretty slowly compared to the majority of the industry
so we don’t have a lot of reflux but what we do have the next thing up, the bit that
links the still to the condenser unit – its called the lyne arm and the lyne arms go up
the way at Laphroaig and that is very unique within the industry. There are only four or
five distilleries where they do this and because we’re distilling slowly and the lyne arms
go up the way, we don’t push a lot of the heavy oils or flavours over into the spirit.
So even though Laphroaig’s are really heavily peated spirited, they’re actually quite light
bodied. It is then condensed back into a liquid and collected in the safe. Now the liquid
we collect from the first distillation we call low wines and basically what you’ll have
done, you’ll have taken your 8.5% volume wash up to about 35% low wines. We just run all
of the alcohol out of that, this process takes about five and a half hours and when the alcohol
is out we’re finished with the liquid. In the second distillation, you split it into
three parts. Here on Islay we call it fore shots, you have your spirit run and then your
feints. In mainland Scotland they call it heads, hearts, tails so it just depends where
you are but basically it’s the same principle. What we then do here at Laphroaig, we’ve got
the longest fore shot or head run in the industry. We kind of recycle this back in with the low
wines from the first distillation for 45 minutes before we turn it around and separate out
the spirit run. The spirit run here, we’re wanting the heavier deeper flavour that you
associate with Laphroaig flavour profile and the single malt. Now the first and the third
parts that I’ve mentioned, the heads and the tails, or the fore shot and the feints get
recycled back with the low wines from the first distillation. They’re always mixed together
and then put back in the spirit stills again. Again Laphroaig you can see three in the first
distillation and four in the second distillation – how does that work, how can it be balanced?
Well the answer is, it isn’t balanced over stills. What we do here at Laphroaig is we
have another tank up the back where we keep 25,000 litres of low wines, fore shot and
feints all mixed up together and then we run the big still at the end, number 1. It doesn’t
run constantly, it maybe runs once or twice over every fermentation vessel. And with this
we balance over every fermentation vessel rather than a double distillation which very
much separates us from the industry as well and allows us
to keep the unique flavour profile of Laphroaig
going. Here we are inside the famous number one warehouse at Laphroaig distillery.
Now, we’re in a warehouse here so as you can imagine there’s lots of fantastic smells in
here. Just out through the wall to my left we have the Atlantic Ocean so lots of kind
of sea atmosphere in here. Then with the casks maturing away a lot of alcohol in the atmosphere
as well. So them mixed with the dark, damp atmosphere in here – a fantastic smell. Now
as the casks are maturing away with the big sleep what happens is there’s a kind of expansion
and contraction through the seasons and with that the spirit goes into the cask, draws
out the wood flavours and then it contracts back in the winter. Now while the whisky is
maturing away we do lose a lot through evaporation, we call this the Angel’s Share and because
we’re right in the Gulf stream of Islay as well we do have higher loses than you’d have
in mainland Scotland. Now you might have noticed as well I’ve got a different size cask to
my right here. This is a quarter cask and these are completely unique to Laphroaig as
well. Now what happens is, with one of our brands called Quarter Cask we get the bourbon
barrels ages 5 up to 11 year old, we’ll mix them together and we’ll double mature them
in these casks. And you might be thinking well it’s not a quarter of a bourbon barrel
you can see behind me, it’s actually quarter of a sherry butt. A sherry butt is a cask
used for European Oak use, for the sherry industry. Quarter Casks are basically a reintroduction
of a very kind of old process, these would have originally been used about 125 years
ago, one on each side of the pack horse as you go to market and the reason they’re that
side is two people could lift them up onto the side of the horse. So smaller volume,
but easier to lift. We’ve reintroduced this process and it’s become one of our fastest
growing brands over the last few years. What I think we should do now, I think we should
basically pull the bung out of one of these and I can show you the colour that has come
in since the spirit we produced in the still house. This is a quarter cask barrel, and
then behind me you can see the sherry butt as well so you get to see the scale and the
difference of the size of a sherry butt. I’m just going to open this one up. Hopefully
I’ll be able to do this first time! Ok, so that’s the bung out now we get the valinch
into the cask here, give it a wee mix to mix the flavours up. So this is the liquid. As
you can see, fantastic colour – this liquid will be going for bottling in the next two
or three weeks or so, so it’s almost finished it’s journey. If we smell it – oh fantastic
smell, even though it’s really cold in here, it’s almost closing the whisky, you still
get lots of vanilla, lots of oak-y flavours coming through. A real kind of bread effect
in this one as well, and it’s enveloped by the smoky, peaty flavours you’d associate
with Laphroaig as well. This is ready for bottling and so what we should do now, we
need to go to the Friends of Laphroaig lounge and I’ll take you and show you the rest of
the family. This is the Friends of Laphroaig lounge and
it is here at the site of the first illicit still that the worldwide phenomenon that is
Laphroaig first started off. Just below us here is where the Kilbride Stream meets the
Atlantic Ocean and this is where it all started for Laphroaig. Now what is Friends of Laphroaig?
Well Friends of Laphroaig was started in 1994. We have about 15,000 visitors that come to
us every year but the vast majority can’t come to the site. So we created a club for
the friends of Laphroaig and right now we’ve just got over 400,000 members so it’s a pretty
big club and when you come to the distillery you get to see your name in volumes like such
and we have a lady here and you can see they’ve signed the book as well. So that’s pretty
neat when they come. What we also do is we give you a square foot of land as I’ve said
previously up beside the water supply and we give you the coordinates for that, we send
out into the field with the cap, the boots and the jacket, the flag of your nation and
you plant that on your square foot. And then we give you rent for that square foot so when
you come back to the distillery, we take you into the clubhouse and we give you a dram.
What could be better? The other parts about Friends of Laphroaig are the drams as well,
we do exclusive bottlings for Friends of Laphroaig. This name here, Cairdeas – that’s what is
says here. Cairdeas means friendship in the local dialect which is Gaelic and Cairdeas
is a brand which is exclusive to Friends of Laphroaig. So every year, normally about the
whisky festival on Islay so the bank holiday in May, we produce a bottling exclusively
for Friends of Laphroaig and that’s offered up online as well. With some Friends whisky,
I’d just like to say Slainte to the Friends all around the world. So we’ve taken you on
the tour, and all the way through the process that goes into making the Laphroaig spirit
unique, let’s meet the family. Here they are. First one here, this is the 10 Year Old Laphroaig,
the main brand within the Laphroaig family and by far the most popular. We’ve got 10
Year Old Cask Strength just to the right here. What’s the difference? Well it’s basically
the strength of alcohol and the way we bottle it. We bottle it basically just barrier filtered
the 10 Year Old Cask Strength, put it into a bottle and we do it in smaller batches so
that we get variation and we’re hoping to do different batches every year so there is
slight variation within this one. Over here, this is Quarter Cask which is a rising star
within the Laphroaig family, the one with the most momentum, gaining the most sales,
just really really popular. We then have an extension of the Quarter Cask family with
Triple Wood. So Quarter Cask is two woods, Triple Wood is three woods. The third wood
is Oloroso sherry European Oak finish on this one. Maybe a couple of years in a sherry cask
and then into the bottle. This side, 18 Year Old 100% bourbon barrels again and 18 years
old, slightly differently bottled – non-chill filtered, 48% alcohol. Then, the last one
at the end, 25 Year Old. 25 Year Old is a mix of sherry and bourbon barrels. It’s 40%
sherry, 60% bourbon so you get a mix of flavours in this one that you don’t associate with
the normal Laphroaig’s. So that’s the end of the tour, I really hope you enjoyed it
and maybe we can get you to Islay some day. Slainte!

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