D Johnston & Company Profile

Named after the founder of Laphroaig distillery on Islay, D. Johnston & Co. has been the owner-operator of what began as a small farm operation for over 200 years. The formidable dedication of its caretakers over the years has built a strong reputation for Laphroaig single malt, while the company can also claim to have been one of the first Scottish whisky companies to be run by a woman.

D Johnston & Company History

D. Johnston & Co. was founded by brothers Donald & Alex Johnston in 1815 when they established a small distillery on their farm at Laphroaig on Islay. However, Donald bought his brother’s share of the business in 1836 to become the sole owner.

Donald’s premature death in 1847 (he tragically fell into a large vat of boiling pot ale) meant that trustees had to be appointed to run the distillery until his son, Dugald, came of age. For the next 10 years the company was operated by Walter Graham – who was in charge of nearby Lagavulin distillery at the time – and Donald’s brother-in-law (and cousin) John Johnston of Tallant.

Dugald took over the day-to-day running of the business when he was 20, although the owner of Lagavulin, by then Mackie & Co., continued to act as agents for Laphroaig.

In 1877 Dugald died without any heirs so the company was inherited by the husband of his sister Isabella, Alex Johnston.

Alex’s death in 1907 left the company in the hands of his sisters, while his nephew Ian Hunter, a newly qualified engineer, was sent to the island to look after the interests of his mother and aunt.

Soon after Hunter arrived on the island the agency agreement with the owner of Lagavulin began to fall apart. Hunter felt the company was not getting the best returns since Mackie & Co was demanding most of the distillery’s annual production for its own blends. After an acrimonious court case which saw Mackie & Co. lose the agency rights, Peter Mackie, Lagavulin’s manager, was so enraged that he ordered the water channel to Laphroaig to be diverted away from the distillery. It took yet another court case to restore the water supply.

The feud between Ian Hunter and Lagavulin did not stop there however, with Peter Mackie building a new distillery on his site (Malt Mill) and ‘poaching’ the distiller from Laphroaig to try and create a similar whisky. He failed.

In 1928 Hunter inherited sole control of the company, and at the same time was asked by the Laird of Islay House to create a special blend of Laphroaig, The Glenlivet and selected grain whiskies to celebrate the coming of age of the Laird’s son. This blend proved to be very popular and, with some adjustments, was released as Islay Mist. The brand is now owned by Macduff International of Glasgow.

Hunter died a bachelor in 1954 and left D. Johnston & Co. to his company secretary, Bessie Williamson, who had taken on a more operational role after he suffered a stroke. This made D. Johnston & Co. one of the first Scotch whisky distillers to be managed by a woman in the 20th century.

Williamson had spent time developing the US market for the company and she continued to promote Laphroaig single malt whisky in this manner. In 1962 she sold a third of the company to American group Schenley, which owned Long John Distillers Ltd. By 1972 Long John (by now Long John International) had bought total ownership of D. Johnston & Co., and in the same year Williamson retired.

Long John International was eventually acquired by English brewer Whitbread in 1975, which passed on to Allied Lyons in 1990. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Laphroaig distillery ended in the lap of US-Japan entity Beam Suntory, though it is still operated today under D. Johnston & Co (Laphroaig) Ltd.


D Johnston & Company (Laphroaig)
Springburn Bond
Carlisle Street
G21 1EQ
United Kingdom
+44 141 558 9011

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