John McDougall har jobbat inom whiskybranschen i
över 40 år. Som ung chef skickades han ut till Islay på uppdrag av
Long John International för att modernisera Laphroaig, den
amerikanske ägaren Schenley krävde fördubblad kapacitet annars
nedläggning. Efter en hetsk strid tvingades skottarna installera den
stora spritpannan som för alltid förändrade rökwhiskyns
personlighet. Det enda John ångrar på Islay.
Hur det gick till berättar John McDougall i ett utdrag ur
självbiografin "Whisky, Worts &
When I took over at Laphroaig, the spirit yields were as low as 2.54 proof
gpb, which was just not acceptable, and something had to be done quickly to
improve efficiency. Among a number of changes, we introduced better cleaning
procedures to ensure that we could get efficient fermentation to improve the
amount of alcohol produced at that stage in the production process.
One of the difficulties of using heavily peated malt is that it can create
quite inefficient fermentation, due to its high phenol content. Laphroaig's
malt phenol content was exceptionally high, around 35ppm, so one could not
realistically compare the malt and its potential efficiency with that
produced, for example, in central Speyside, where malts tended to be
lightly-peated. The Laphroaig process water flowed out of a peat bog, the
water used to steep the barley in our maltings came out of a peat bog, and
we then used mounds and mounds of furnace peat in the kilns to increase the
phenol levels even more, so it was no great surprise that our yields were
lower than at many distilleries. It took me some time to appreciate this
really, and I remember the brewer Tom Anderson saying to me one day, "You
can't get good yields like you're wanting because of the high level of the
peat, do you not understand? It's the quality of the peat, low sulphur peat,
that gives us the smokiness, otherwise you don't have the Laphroaig."
We were dealing with old methods and an old plant, because there had been
very little investment in the distillery for a long time. It certainly
wasn’t hi-tec, in fact I would say it wasn't even low-tec, more no-tec at
all, but I did have the magical ingredient of the personal touch – the fact
that the employees were turning the malt, shoveling in the peat, making
grist in a manually-set mill and all the rest. This made our attempts to
increase yields seem a very personal thing to the men, who felt that we were
trying to take away the individuality of Laphroaig from the people who lived
there, who drank, ate and slept Laphroaig.
As the yields increased, however, so the men began to take a greater pride
in their work and in the workplace itself. We undertook a considerable
amount of landscaping work, removing a huge heap of rubble which occupied a
lot of ground in front of the distillery office. This, I recovered, had been
Laphroaig House, where the owners of the distillery had formerly lived, and
when it had been demolished a year previously, the remains were just left
where they fell. We cleaned all this up, and brought in topsoil to landscape
the area. We also improved the distillery yard, which was just like a farm
track, by cleaning it and laying tarmacadam. Additionally, we built a large
loading bay so that when the new filling store was operating we could roll
the casks out of it and straight on to the distillery lorry.
The ultimate owner of Laphroaig and Long John Distillers was the Schenley
Corporation of Cincinnati, and soon after my arrival at Laphroaig we were
visited by two representatives from the company, Bart Crowley and Al Owen.
They were from the engineering section of the corporation, and were on the
island because the results from Laphroaig were lower than had been expected
that year. Also significant was the fact that the parent company was owned
by an entrepreneur who had interests in other drinks-related business in the
USA, along with supermarkets and even film studios. Some of these ventures
were performing poorer than expected as well. Schenley, therefore, were on a
cost-cutting mission and an efficiency drive to increase profits, so Crowley
and Owen had been sent to Islay on a fact-finding mission to decide whether
the company should keep Laphroaig, and if it was to do so what could be done
to improve productivity and cut costs.
This was obviously a tense time for Kay and I, as we had just uprooted
ourselves to Islay, and we didn't know what the future held for Laphroaig.
Eventually Schenley decided to keep Laphroaig, and budgets were agreed for
all the company's Scottish distilleries, though it was not easy to stick to
a strict budget on an island like Islay, where all costs were at least 20
percent higher than on the mainland.
It was decided that if Laphroaig was to be kept, then its capacity should be
doubled, and we undertook to produce whisky while all the developments were
going on. We also tackled the problems of the low yields during the same
period as we were planning the upgrading and capacity increase. It was
vitally important that we were able to demonstrate to our American masters
that yields were improving during 1970, and we did manage to increase the
yield from 2.54 to 2.75, which was considered quite good, given the type of
process and the style of heavily-peated malt that we were using. Attention
to detail in the maltings was an important part of increasing the yields,
and the men were paying more attention to the barley during malting, taking
steps to slow it down where necessary and generally paying more attention
than they had done in the past, and this certainly helped.
One of the first improvements we made was to put in a new fire ring main
system, and we decided to use it to run sea water through old condensers,
which were shipped to the island from the Stratchclyde grain distillery in
Glasgow. This helped to increase the supply of process water in the
short-term, but the sea water damaged the copper piping inside the
condensers, and we eventually installed a cooling tower and built a dam
behind the stillhouse. We recycled the water from the stillhouse condensers
through the cooling tower and reused it along with fresh water. This helped
to increase the production capabilities of the distillery from 360,000 proof
gallons per year to around 430,000 proof gallons per annum. This was not
nearly enough, however, and the decision was taken to increase the tun room
and stillhouse capacities, with the aim of increasing the overall capacity
of the distillery from 430,000 gallons per year to more than 700,000 gallons.
We also had to look at the water supply very carefully, because it was well
known that Laphroaig frequently ran out of water. This was just due to poor
water management, as the distillery was served by a somewhat distant hill
loch, Loch na Beinne Brice. In order to conserve water it was necessary to
go up there regularly with a dip rod, and adjust the outlet valve
accordingly. Prior to Long John taking over Laphroaig, what had happened was
that when the water got scarce, someone had simply got up to the loch,
opened the valve, and let the water run until the loch was empty.
One day I went up to the Bowmore in the Land-Rover with 'The Guttie', and on
the way he pointed out to me the remains of an old bridge which had been
washed away in a flood before the Second World War. He said to me, "There
used to be plenty of water on this island, but there was a shortage after
the war, until Long John took over, and since then we have had nothing but
rain." The reality was that the distillery hadn't run out of water since
Long John took over due to better water management – it was nothing to do
with changes in the climate! As parts of the improvements we built a new dam
at Kilbride, capable of holding five million gallons of water.
When it came to increasing the capacity of the stillhouse at Laphroaig in
1972 there was quite a confrontation, because the engineers and the
distillers came to the situation with views which were poles apart.
Increasing the number of wash stills was comparatively simple, because there
were already two, and the installation of one extra wash still could take
care of the extra capacity required. When it came to the spirit stills,
however, two more ones were needed, but on grounds of cost-effectiveness it
was decided that one double-sized still would be installed. It was to be the
same in every respect as the three small existing spirit stills, but it was
to be twice as large. The engineers and the bosses of Schenley were warned
that to do this would inevitably change the character and the style of
Laphroaig from its traditional heavy, peaty, oily, smokey, phenolic,
iodine-like form. Unfortunately in my opinion and that of most people who
knew the 'old' Laphroaig, the spirit did change. From the point of view of
the traditionalist, what emerged was not the Laphroaig of old, though, in
purely commercial terms, the production of a lighter Laphroaig may have been
for the better in the long run, giving the whisky a wider following.
At the end of the day, I would have to say that economic considerations
mattered more than maintaining the quality and tradition of one of
Scotland's finest and most distinctive whiskies. Nevertheless, I was proud
to be the manager of Laphroaig, and to have played my part in the expansion,
at least up to the point where the new spirit still was installed. We had
all put in an immense amount of time and effort in order to implement the
changes, and whatever reservations one might have had, we helped ensure the
survival of the distillery as part of Long John International and helped it
to have a bright future.
Many more changes were implemented after my time at Laphroaig, aimed at
automating the plant, and I don't think they were for the better. It's still
a lovely location, the people working there are still great people, but I
feel the distillery has lost at lot of its character.
Del II: Becoming
an Illeach -->
Köp John McDougalls memoarer i shoppen!
Every year over one million whisky lovers visit Scotland's
distilleries and witness the making of Scotch malt whisky. There
they are exposed to a professional facade behind which the
day-to-day running of kilns, malting floors, stillhouses and
tunrooms seamlessly engages to create one of Scotland's greatest
gifts to humanity. Well, that's what they are told by the tour
This is the 'other side' of the whisky industry about which no-one
ever hears, recounted by a highly respected insider who has seen the
industry in good times and in bad, and who finished his management
days at the world-reknowned Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown.
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