“Islay means everything to me, I’m just in love with it.” Now retired, Jim McEwan was a leading light in Islay whisky, although privately he says that creating The Botanist was an emotional highlight of his life. He was a football coach and massively influential in the lives of a lot of young people in Islay too, many of whom have ended up working at the distillery.
His entire career had been working with a spirit, whisky, which is made from one ingredient – barley – and the flavours which can be conjured afterwards through its ageing process. With a the style of gin known as a London Dry, everything happens at the distillation. The means of capturing all the flavours from the botanical ingredients in gin is highly alcoholic neutral grain spirit, which is made in distilleries “the size of Bowmore” (Islay’s main village) using wheat. Bruichladdich had not been designed with that in mind. He put himself in the position of pupil at a specialist distillers in England to glean everything he could about the ingredients and the process and nuances of gin-making.
Once he felt he’d got it, Jim returned home, knowing exactly what direction he wanted to take. With the connections he’d established, he could take the base materials and flavour-layering techniques, add Islay water, add the distilling knowledge he and his colleagues had gained from a lifetime in the industry and make a shining example of a clear spirit – an Islay dry gin.