Whiskey that tastes like "a burning hospital"


One Scotch whiskey distillery is advertising its product by telling everyone how awful it tastes.

In a campaign that seems to break all the rules of advertising, Laphroaig is slapping terrible descriptions on its single-malt scotch. It tastes like dead fish, iodine, a campfire and dirt. It smells like medicine.

"A symphony of smoke," reads one of Laphroaig's ads. "Tastes like a burning hospital. Earth never tasted so good." Those aren't just idle words, either -- the ads are based on actual quotes from Laphroaig drinkers.

Laphroaig (pronounced "La-froyg") is turning the traditional ad campaign on its head to target a special group of scotch fans: The ones who enjoy the earthy smokiness of a classic peated whiskey, or "whisky" as it is spelled in Scotland, from the island of Islay. The flavor develops in the whiskey-making process as damp barley is dried over the biting smoke of a peat fire.

The tastes and aroma are nearly indescribable, but scotch drinkers try anyway. Slate likens it to clove, banana, butterscotch, burning tires, Sharpies, Band-Aids and synthetic insulin. And instead of shying away from the negatives, Laphroaig is embracing them.

"Laphroaig has long been a brand that elicited diverse and strong opinions from those who taste it," said John Campbell, the master distiller for the company.

The brand has even launched a website that asks people to submit their own opinions of the drink. The "opinion wall" appears to be a hit, with a large volume of mostly favorable views. "It's like meeting an old friend," wrote one customer. "Like licking a newly tarred West Coast pier," wrote another.

The unusual ad push also appears to be lifting Laphroaig's sales. The distiller has seen a 17 percent sales spike for the first half of the year, MarketWatch reports. That's much stronger growth than the 9.6 percent sales increase seen for the scotch category overall in 2013.

  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.