When former Bruichladdich master distiller Jim McEwan announced he was going to retire after 52 years in the Scotch industry back in 2015, it did indeed seem like his whisky-making days were mostly done. As was the case with bourbon legend and former Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge, however, you can’t always keep a good former distiller down. With this in mind, McEwan is getting back into the game as the new production director at the as-yet-unopened Islay distillery Ardnahoe.
Ardnahoe, which we first learned about a little over a year ago, is being built on the northeast coast of Islay, and will be this whisky isle’s ninth distillery. McEwan, in his new role here, will work alongside distillery founders from the Laing family, including father Stewart and sons Andrew and Scott, to do everything from ” shaping its design and installing his preferred pieces of distilling equipment, to fine-tuning the production processes and selecting casks.”
He also reportedly will work on a number of so-called “secret creative projects” which the distillery believes will “make waves across the spirits world.” McEwan will certainly have the deep pockets to be experimental in whatever he is working on, as the Laings have already made their mark and money in ownership of Hunter Laing & Co, a well-regarded and independent Scottish whisky bottler.
“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,” said McEwan in a prepared statement. “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 the distillery for the first time in my career, all made it feel like it was ‘meant to happen’.”
“It’s hard to think of anyone better qualified than Jim McEwan to develop the character of the newest Islay malt whisky,” added Andrew Laing, Director of Hunter Laing & Co. “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.”
Ardnahoe aims to produce traditional peated single malt whisky. It will include a visitor’s center, shop and tasting room, and it is expected the first whisky to be distilled there will happen at some point early next year.
Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and...