My name is Marcel van Gils, born
in 1953 and I run a dental office in the Netherlands. I started collecting
single malt whiskies around 1995. At first I collected just about everything
with a cork stopper or screw cap, but gradually shifted to Laphroaig.
Old Laphroaigs are rated among the
best single malt whiskies ever. I visited the distillery several times.
It’s a fascinating place drenched in history. A past, that has
seen difficult family affairs, legal disputes, but also long lasting
marriages and friendships. A distillery born out of a very clannish
family who knew their trade: the Johnstons.
Together with Dutch whisky author and friend Hans Offringa I wrote and published 'The Legend of Laphroaig' in 2007.
After the book launch I received a wealth of information about the distillery's past, which can be seen in the History section. When scrolling down through this section, you can see the story unfolding, with some 'mishaps' in the past.
I left them on the website, in order to show how I finally got my results.
In 2011 and 2012 I sold a big part of my collection, it was just getting too much, but still hold the old and rare original bottles.
Today I find more pleasure in unearthing Laphroaig's past. It's increasingly difficult finding rare bottles for a reasonable price. When I started collecting the internet was an invaluable tool, today it's not, since people offering a bottle browse the internet too and prices surge.
Of course there is the everlasting discussion that whisky was made for
drinking and not collecting. I feel that collecting whisky is a valuable
addition. Without collectors no one would know how old whiskies looked
and tasted. In my opinion the single malt whiskies from the fifties,
sixties and seventies are much better than the ones now distilled and bottled.
For novice drinkers no problem, but veterans know better. Causes? It
could be the change in production methods (e.g. steam vs. coal fired
stills, stainless steel vs. wood), the shortage of good (sherry) casks
and larger percentages whisky to the single malt market, maybe environmental
reasons. Managers forced to think in terms of "yield", marketing
and shareholder value in a fierce competition in a rapidly expanding
but crowded market. For let’s get one thing straight: making whisky
is tough business. It always has been. History shows constant rise and
fall, expansions and closures, closely related to economic upswings
and downturns. Romantic ideas about making whisky only exist in the
minds of us, whisky nutts. In order to survive it’s a multinational
business, no matter what the PR boys and girls of the distilleries like
us to believe. Something Bessie Williamson already was aware of in the
1960-ties. But let’s not be overly dramatic about it: a lot of
distilleries wouldn’t exist today without the funds of (often
foreign) multinationals and still produce, not top notch, but decent stuff.
It's good that some of these great, old bottles are kept for history
and drank on the rare occasion.
Illustrations by Hans Dillesse