Jim McEwan – 50 years in the whisky business


Fifty years ago today our Master Distiller, Jim McEwan, began work in the whisky industry. He is now one of the best known figures in the business and an inspiration to us all.  Everyone at Bruichladdich and Laddiefans all around the world were mightily relieved when he announced that rumours of his retirement on this auspicious date were exaggerated and that he is staying with us for another few years.

Jim McEwan is currently enjoying a well-earned holiday in Portugal and so is not here to share the moment with us, but we thought we would mark the occasion by publishing a biography that he wrote recently…   Slainte!

“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 and I had become jaded by the constant travel and lack of family life plus the bonus of course was returning home to Islay.

“The last 12 years with Bruichladdich have been a roller-coaster ride but to see the progress we have made and the friends we have gained, has been the most wonderful experience. To bring this old distillery back from the dead to become 3 times “Distillery of the Year”, 4 times Innovator of the Year plus a host of other awards from around the world has been incredible.  For Bruichladdich to become the cult figure it is, whilst employing so many good Islay people, is for me my greatest reward. Plus of course, the success of “The Botanist Gin” which has been so well received around the Globe, giving us an entry into the world of white spirits and a whole new section of consumers.It has been a journey of 50 years for me and like all journeys it has had its ups and downs but you learn from the experiences and become the better man for them. Now under the leadership of Remy Cointreau I see a bright future for the team here on Islay and I will continue “ Working on a Dream”, chasing Single Malt Rainbows in search of the Perfect Dram.”

Jim McEwan – his awards include:
1990 – Spirit Judge – International Wine and Spirit Challenge;

1995 – Spirit Judge – International Spirit Challenge;

1995 – Distiller of the Year – IWSC. London;

1996 – Honorary member of An Quaich Society – Canada;

1997 – Ambassador of Islay by Japan – JBA;

1997 – Honorary member of the Malt Whisky Embassy – Berlin;

1998 – Taster of Honour by Highland Circle – Nurnberg, Germany;

1999 – Keeper of the Quaich – UK;

1999 – Honorary Taster Akarak Single Malt Society – Sweden;

2000 – Distiller of the year – IWSC – London;

2000 – Honorary member of the Companion of the Quaich – Canada;

2001 – Honorary member of the Lords of Lochindaal – Lubeck, Germany;

2001 – Chair judge – IWSC;

2002 – Distiller of the year – Whisky Magazine;

2002 – Brotherhood of Whisky Tasting – Switzerland;

2003 – Personality of the year – Whisky Magazine;

2003 – Distiller of the year – Whisky Magazine;

2007 – Certificate of Honour – Celtic Whisky Circle;

2007 – Middle Cut of Helsinki Award;

2007 – Honorary Member, Scotch Malt Whisky Society – Austria;

2009 – Honorary Member Loch and Key Society – USA;

2009 – Acheivement Award – Oran Mhor – Scotland;

2011 –  Innovator of the Year2013 –  Creator of the Year;


Our picture shows Jim at Laddieday during Feis Ile in May of this year after he had been presented with tickets to see The Boss at Hampden Park.

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