Jim tempted out of retirement for new distillery
WHISKY distiller Jim McEwan has been appointed production director of the new Ardnahoe Distillery on Islay - 18 months after he retired.
The Islay-born renowned industry icon, who has 53 years’ experience, has been hired by Hunter Laing & Co, the company behind Ardnahoe, the first distillery to be built on Islay for more than a decade.
Ardnahoe is being built on the north- east coast of Islay and will become the ninth distillery on the island. It expects to start distilling whisky in early 2018.
Jim is playing a pivotal role at the distillery for the Laing family – father Stewart and sons Andrew and Scott. The distillery, which will include a visitor centre, café, shop and tasting room, will produce traditional peated Islay single malt.
Jim retired in July 2015 after a prodigious career that began in 1963 and later saw his name become synonymous with both Islay and the whisky industry.
In his last role, he was master distiller at Bruichladdich for 15 years where he produced a series of innovative whiskies including, notably, Octomore, the world’s most heavily-peated whisky, as well as revered Islay gin The Botanist.
Prior to that, he spent 38 years in a variety of roles at Bowmore, the distillery he first joined as a 15-year- old apprentice cooper in 1963. While there, he worked in every aspect of the distillery from warehousing and cellar master, to trainee blender, distillery manager and global brand ambassador.
During his brief retirement, Jim turned his hand once again to gin distilling, spending time in the Australian rainforests sourcing botanicals to help Cape Byron Distillery launch Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin.
Jim said: 'I had intended to ride off into the sunset, but I’ve known Stewart for many years and have always been impressed with Hunter Laing whisky. When the call came in, it really excited me.
‘Then when I visited the distillery site with the Laing family, it absolutely blew me away. 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 a distillery for the first time in my career, all made it feel like it was meant to happen.’
Hunter Laing has said it will be taking part in Feis Ile, the Islay Festival of Music and Malt, from May 26 to June 3.
Left to right: Stewart Laing, Jim McEwan, Andrew Laing and Scott Laing.