Wednesday 22 October 2014

A truly memorable evening with Jim McEwan

The start of October marked a special moment in the whisky world here in Australia as we were graced by the presence of the respected, legendary, Jim McEwan. The Master Distiller of Bruichladdich toured Australia to share the story of Bruichladdich and his wonderful journey with the distillery. It was not that long ago that we adventured through the exciting Bruichladdich series at the Eastern Hotel and so Jim's visit was particularly exciting and timely.

We attended the evening with Jim McEwan as part of the Single Malt Whisky Society event at the grand Royal Automobile Club in Sydney. The ever-knowledgeable Andrew Derbidge of SMWS co-hosted with Jim and facilitated the session.

The night began with an unconventional (for a whisky tasting) 'The Botanist' gin and tonic ('The Botanist' being the herbacious Islay gin crafted by Bruichladdich). As Jim put it, at the time, the gin had been crafted when the distillery was going through tougher financial times and could not afford to produce whisky. The remark was not true of course, rather a sign of the wave of light humour that was to come from Jim that night.

The story of Bruichladdich is a labour of love. Built in 1881 by the Harvey brothers, the Islay distillery continued to evolve over the century, making use of equipment which has stood the test of time. The distillery progressed further over the years, currently producing approximately 1.5 million litres of liquid gold per annum, yet still continuing to strongly support local Islay farmers and the good folks of the Islay community. A short testimonial video was shown to the room featuring testimonies from local barley farmers and a number of passionate distillery workers alike, one of which had been ear-marked by Jim as his protege.

Jim's own story was equally full of passion and love. Having worked in the whisky industry for over 50 years, Jim worked his way through the ranks. Starting as an apprentice Cooper for Bowmore in 1963, Jim continued his journey through warehousing, mashing and malting before becoming a master blender at one point, and eventually becoming the Ambassador for Bowmore. Jim only returned to the production realm when he joined Bruichladdich in 2000 and has since shaped the Bruichladdich we now all know and love.

Throughout the night, Jim shared various stories from his journey as a Master Distiller, stories from the distillery and a few tips for appreciating a good dram including a few experimentations with the fingers. Even through the countless stories though, Jim still kept a single story close to his chest - the story of how the Black Art came about. Few have attempted to unravel the mystery of the Black Art from Jim (and failed).

The tasting menu for the night consisted of seven quality Islay drams, all hailing from Bruichladdich (though one a SMWS curation which was, as the name suggests...salty):
  1. The Classic Laddie
  2. Islay Barley 2006
  3. Black Art
  4. Port Charlotte Scottish Barley
  5. Port Charlotte 10yo
  6. SMWS 127.39 'intensely salty' 12yo
  7. Octomore 06.1

Oh, let's not forget, the eighth dram. Never had the dram been previewed or tasted anywhere globally before. The inaugural preview of the mysterious, almost six year old, 2008 Octomore (matured in a French virgin oak cask) was something special. The dram was astounding, loads of toffee and smoked ham (with peating levels at 175ppm) and quite a remarkable contrast to the Octomore 06.1 previously tasted.

Following the last wonderful mystery dram, Jim then extended an invite for us all to join him in a Highland toast. Having skipped the Port Charlotte Scottish Barley from earlier that night, this was the dram we toasted with. With one foot on the table and our hand raised, we chanted, we sang and we capped off the night and saluted with the aromatic, sweet and lightly toasted dram.

Memories from the night will linger on. Jim was simply remarkable, inspirational and legendary. His passion, charm, wisdom and love for distillation truly define him and all his beautiful creations. If you ever do get the chance to see or meet Jim, perhaps around Islay, take it up as it will undoubtedly be the most memorable moment you will have in your whisky journey.

A special heartfelt thanks to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Southtrade International for co-hosting such a wonderful and memorable event, and Southtrade for the invitation.

- Hendy.


  1. I had the pleasure of seeing Jim in Hobart. Sadly we didn't get 2008 Octomore (finished off by some greedy guts in Sydney, I'm told ;D) but the night was still amazing. He is such a fantastic speaker and told some hilarious stories. I did a bit of a recap myself, hopefully it will bring back a fond memory or two:

    1. Nice write-up! He certainly got around Australia. Having seen his schedule, I'm surprised he got any sleep at all in the few weeks he was in town! What a legend.