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Bruichladdich Legendary Distiller Jim McEwan To Retire After 52 Years

In the whiskey world it is always big news when a master distiller, especially one with over 50 years in the business, decides to retire from the trade. It was thus likely with some sadness Scotland’s Bruichladdich distillery announced this week the planned retirement of distilling legend Jim McEwan.

image via Bruichladdich
image via Bruichladdich

McEwan, according to the distillery, will retire this July after 52 years in the whiskey industry. That’s a long history, no doubt, and one best explained by the man himself from a post on the Bruichladdich website from a few years back when he celebrated 50 years:

I started work for Bowmore Distillery on 1st August 1963 as an apprentice Cooper. During that period I gained experience in virtually every aspect of distillation from warehousing, mashing and malting. In 1971 at the age of 22, I became the cellar master, a position I held until February 1976 when I was asked to move to the Roseburn Bonding Co in Glasgow’s Bridgeton as a trainee Blender. There I was taught the valuable art of blending and I subsequently became the manager of The Tannochside Bonding Co in January 1978, a large blending facility owned by Bowmore.

In February 1986 I returned to Bowmore Distillery, this time as the manager, where I stayed for the next 12 years. It was during this time in Bowmore that I started travelling to various whisky events around the world, initially a few times per year but building up to acting as Ambassador and travelling globally about 30 plus weeks per year. In 1995 I was invited by the International Wine and Spirit Challenge to join their team as a spirit judge which I was proud to accept and indeed it is a position I still hold and in 1995 the same position was offered this time by the International Spirit Challenge. Also in 1995 I was awarded the prestigious title “Distiller of the Year” by the IWSC and again in 2000. In 1998 I was delighted to accept the award “Industry Leader of the Year” USA, the very first time the award was presented.

In the spring of 2000 I was approached by Gordon Wright who, together with Mark Reynier and Simon Coughlin, were at that time hoping to buy Bruichladdich Distillery. The decision to leave Bowmore was fairly easy as I really wanted to get back into the distillation side again.

In his time since joining Bruichladdich, he has been credited with bringing the distillery back into prominence, releasing over the years “an innovative and thought-provoking portfolio of single malts that challenged previous perceptions in the category.” His work is talked about in a thoughtful interview Cool Hunting did with him recently I would suggest you check out. He leaves behind “a legacy of over twenty different spirit styles maturing in the company warehouses,” which is quite an amazing stamp in the whiskey history books.

“This has been an incredible journey,” said McEwan in a statement. “As I take a small step across the road to spend more time with my wife and family, I leave behind a truly great team of eighty men and women who will carry this distillery and its spirit forward.  I am so proud to have been able to play my part in nurturing what was an incredible opportunity, to bring this old distillery back to life and reinvest in Islay and its people.”

As for what happens at the distillery after McEwan is gone, current assistant distillery manager Adam Hannett, who has been under the master’s wing for many years, will take over. He certainly will have big shoes to fill.

Nino Kilgore-Marchetti

Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the former founder of The Whiskey Wash, an award-winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y globally. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert, and judge, he has written extensively about the subject, been interviewed in various media outlets, and provided tasting input on many whiskeys at competitions.

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