Jim McEwan


Jim McEwan is one of the best known distillers in Scotland.  He was inducted into Whisky Magazine’s “Hall of Fame” at a ceremony held in London on 20th March 2014.  The well known drinks journalist Dave Broom wrote ​: “There are not many people who can say they have worked in every job in whisky. Then again, there’s no one quite like Jim McEwan. He started work on August 1st 1963 as an apprentice cooper at Bowmore and after working in every other area of the distillery, ended up as cellar-master and then trainee blender. In 1986 he was made distillery manager at Bowmore and began to travel the world as the distillery’s ambassador.

“If there was a whisky show, Jim would be there and when he spoke he wouldn’t just talk of his whisky, but of his island. Jim brought Islay to the world and the world fell in love.

“He makes people laugh, he makes them cry (in a good way), he makes them think, he imbues them with a sense of the passion he has for his whisky and for his island. Most of all he makes them understand that whisky is about people. Nowhere is this more clear than at Bruichladdich where he has been master distiller since its reopening in 2001.

“I recall sitting on the shores of Loch Indaal with him in 1999, looking across to Bruichladdich, then closed. “I’d love for that distillery to reopen,”

“I recall sitting on the shores of Loch Indaal with him in 1999, looking across to Bruichladdich, then closed. “I’d love for that distillery to reopen,” he said. “It’s a disgrace that it’s closed.” It hurt him as a whisky man and as an Ileach. Now it’s one of the largest employers on Islay, forging new links with farmers, utilising Islay’s flora to infuse its Botanist gin. He has helped to recalibrate the notion of what a distillery can do and has challenged conventional thinking by being brave enough to ask, “what is this thing called whisky?” His answer: “It is exciting it is challenging, it is poetic, it is a distillation of place and people.” On his 50th anniversary he wrote, “I’ll continue working on a dream, chasing single malt rainbows in search of the perfect dram.”

The birth of the idea for an Islay gin was protracted.  Innovation has been central to “Laddie” philosophy ever since the distillery re-opened early in the millennium but the concept of distilling a gin at an Islay single malt whisky distillery was challenging convention to put it mildly.  One of the key factors in its success was Jim’s deep understanding of distillation techniques, and how radically different they would need to be.

Another was Jim’s ongoing consultation with Islay-based botanists Richard and Mavis Gulliver who have a profound understanding of ourlocal natural environment and flora.

The Botanist is the unprecedented result of a unique Islay distiller’s know-how combining with a suite of locally foraged botanicals assembled after a great deal of work and meticulous study.  It is one of Jim’s proudest achievements.

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