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James McEwan


James McEwan

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,” 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.” His journey continues

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