Jim McEwan, Distiller of the Year, Whisky Magazine 2002

Mr McEwan was still at Bowmore when he became the first 'living whisky hero' to be featured on the cover of Whisky Magazine. Since then this tireless individual has become a key member of the consortium that has resurrected Bruichladdich.

He won this category by an overwhelming majority. According to Charlie MacLean, Editor-at-Large: "Everywhere you go in the world they say 'Do you know James McEwan?' He is not only a wonderful ambassador for Scotch whisky, he should be given a medal by the Scottish Parliament for representing Scotland abroad."

Regular contributor Martine Nouet feels similarly: “Not only being the best ambassador whisky (and Scotland) has ever had, Jim McEwan has proved the highest distilling skills, especially in giving birth to the new Bruichladdich spirit. I think Jim McEwan is the best mentor for a young worker starting in the industry because he has the knowledge of a skilled worker, the inspiration of a visionary and the generosity and care of a father. This is why he has achieved a real sense of spirit with his team at Bruichladdich, looking into the future and caring for the village community.”

But it’s not just writers he has charmed and won over. Many retailers were quick to sing his praises. Jonathan Goldstein of Park Avenue Liquors said that “Jim naturally came to mind for this award.” The reason? “With Jim, it was more than ability or even popularity. He seems to ooze with a passion and talent for the industry that has enabled him to produce whisky that hits the market running on all levels. Jim has already proven himself – look at his track record. He is one of the industry’s unofficial ambassadors and deserves to be recognized.”

Adrian Murray of The Wee Dram referred to Jim’s “determination to bring jobs to the area in the form of a proposed bottling plant and whisky academy underline his devotion to his home and his people”. These sentiments were echoed wholeheartedly by, among others, Keir Sword of Royal Mile Whiskies. Praise was also unstinting from Richard Joynson of Loch Fyne Whiskies: “Jim lives malt whisky, he is the genuine article (not coloured, undiluted and non-filtered).

If any one person deserves a gong for services either to Islay or to Scotch whisky it is Jim McEwan. (A couple of years ago, I suggested Kenny MacKay, Managing Director of Morrison Bowmore, put him up for an MBE – then JM jumped ship, I think Ken probably dropped it).

Jim is known as the ‘Lord of the Isles’ amongst his whisky colleagues on Islay. This is respect, not cynicism. With 39 years in the shadow of the kiln, Jim is a time-served ambassador – energetic, passionate about his life and generous with his time.” His tireless work has not gone unnoticed by the independent bottlers either: Robin Tucek of Blackadder was fulsome in his admiration: “Jim has always been singular in his devotion to malt whisky, fiercely promoting what he believes in while at the same time always encouraging what others are trying to achieve. And when you look at the exceptional quality of the casks filled at Bowmore during Jim’s years there just think what rare and mouthwatering treats we will have in store when the new fillings at Bruichladdich come of age.” Perhaps as important as the praise heaped on Jim by whisky lovers, journalists, retailers and independent bottlers is the esteem in which he is held by his peers.

A fitting summary for why this tough category was won so convincingly by Jim McEwan is provided by the Master Distiller of The Glenlivet, Jim Cryle: “I have known Jim for over 30 years. He has a lifetime’s experience in, and a great passion for, all aspects of Scotch whisky production. He knows what it takes to produce a consistent high-quality malt whisky. He has been – and still is – a dedicated ambassador for Scotch whisky in general and Islay in particular and he is to be applauded for realising his dream of bringing Bruichladdich back to life.”

Report from Whisky Magazine Issue 22, April/ May 2002

Distiller of the Year

Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich

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