02 Feb Whisky legend Jim McEwan tempted out of retirement by new Islay distillery
Whisky legend Jim McEwan has been lured out of retirement to head up production at the first new distillery to be built on Islay in more than a decade.
McEwan has been hired by Hunter Laing & Co, the family-run Glasgow whisky company that last year got the go-ahead to build Ardnahoe. It will be the famous whisky island’s ninth distillery, with production expected to begin early in 2018.
McEwan spent 53 years in the industry before retiring 18 months ago from Bruichladdich, where as master distiller he produced a series of innovative drams such as Octomore, the world’s most heavily-peated whisky.
As production director at Ardnahoe, he will have a pivotal role in designing and kitting out the distillery for the Laing family, headed by father Stewart and sons Andrew and Scott.
McEwan said his intention upon retirement had been to “ride off into the sunset”, but was swayed when the call came from long-standing associate Stewart Laing.
“Then when I visited the distillery site with the Laing family, it absolutely blew me away,” he explained. “It’s an incredible spot up on a hill overlooking the Sound of Islay out to Mull in the north and across to Jura – it has to be one of the most beautiful sites for a distillery anywhere in the world.
“It felt as though the stars were aligning; the amazing location, my history with Islay, my relationship with the Laing family, their passion for the project, the calibre of architect Iain Hepburn, plus my chance to get involved with the design of the distillery for the first time in my career, all made it feel like it was meant to happen.”
Prior to Bruichladdich, McEwan spent 38 years in a variety of roles at Bowmore, the distillery he first joined as a 15-year-old apprentice cooper in 1963. During his career there, he worked in every aspect of the distillery: warehousing, cellar master, trainee blender, distillery manager and global brand ambassador.
Born on Islay, McEwan is among the whisky industry’s best-known figures. A member of Whisky Magazine’s Hall of Fame, he has won numerous awards throughout his career.
“It’s hard to think of anyone better qualified than Jim McEwan to develop the character of the newest Islay malt whisky,” director Andrew Laing said. “Jim has lived and breathed Islay whisky his whole life and is bringing all of his passion and knowledge to Ardnahoe Distillery.
“The three of us are hugely impressed with the whiskies he’s produced in the past and can sleep easy knowing that he is in ultimate charge of whisky-making at Ardnahoe.”