The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2016

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december 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  71 Has he learned anything new or surprising from the vis- ceral responses to the campaign? Not really: He always knew that his precious whisky smelled like a burning hospital. A lot of new tasters do, too. Part of the social media fun is sharing, commenting and voting. Among the top vote getters is "I'd rather dine with the King than sleep with the princess" of the Cairdeas bottling. Says Campbell, "It's two-way communication. It energizes consumers." The company launched a "State Your Opinion" competi- tion this summer, encouraging their more than 600,000 Friends of Laphroaig across the world to submit their most outrageous and colorful opinions for a chance to be displayed at the distillery. Campbell doesn't, as one might expect, come from a long line of Islay distillers. His father, who Campbell says has "used up all his whisky drinking tokens," tried working at the distillery but it wasn't for him. He returned to farming. Campbell explains there are three traditional careers on the island in the extreme west of Scotland: fishing, farming or distilling whisky. A combination of all three keep the economy alive and the natives fed and, one would hope, in good spirits. Young John wanted to be an engineer out of college, but fishing was a more viable option in this land of 3,500 humans, easily outnumbered by sheep, cattle and deer. He made a good wage hauling in lobster, but it was not a steady enough source of income for a young man with a mortgage, so he took a pay cut to work at the distillery, learning all the important facets of production, eventually becoming Assistant Distiller on his way to the title of Master. He doesn't pay the title much heed; he's way too down-to-earth to be impressed by trappings. He reflects about the bottle signing he recently did while in San Francisco for Whisky Fest. "I find it odd that people want my signature on the bottle. It's what's inside that matters. And I'm just one of the many people who make it happen. Some of the team have been there practically their whole lives." Clearly, it's a tremendous source of pride to be associated with such a worldwide powerhouse brand, and yet, that pride is tempered with that characteristic Scottish practicality. Campbell admits his first taste of Laphroaig was some- thing of a jolt. He grimaces at the recollection and says it sparked his curiosity to find out what in the world could make it taste like that. And find out he did. "If you stand on the west shore of Islay, on the peat bogs with the wind blowing in the salty air, you understand the taste of Laphroaig," he says. "I love that salty sea smell and that smoky peat in the 10 Year Old." Decomposing seaweed, grass and sphagnum moss, the latter once collected for its ability to treat wounds, gives Laphroaig peat its unmistakably medicinal character. This, Campbell says, is the essence of Islay, to be enjoyed with just a few drops of water to release the pent up aromat- ics and soften the edge. Be forewarned, though. Says Campbell, "For first time whisky drinkers, it's like jumping into the deep end." Laphroaig, too, is jumping: In just the last five years, consumption is up 86% in the U.S. alone, bested only by Germany at 88%, with Japan up 82%. "When you make whisky, you always have a ten-year plan," he says. "We often get it wrong. The popularity of our brand in the U.S. really caught us by surprise." While they are scaling up production to meet demand, Campbell admits they want to keep it limited. "We could jack up the price. We could double our production. But it's not about greed. It's about staying true to the brand. It is our identity." No matter what anyone says about Laphroaig whisky, it is also the heritage and the legacy of that island and the people whose lives depend upon it. And that's not just opinion. Laphroaig is welcoming opinions about its bracingly smoky and peaty beverages that have made the brand world-renowned. The polarizing peat bogs of Laphroaig. PHOTOS COURTESY OF LAPHROAIG Laphroaig® single malt scotch whisky, 43%, 48% and 55.7% alc./vol. ©2016 Laphroaig Import Company, Deerfield, IL

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