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Whisky icon out of retirement

Veteran McEwan lured back by Ardnahoe

Stewart Laing, Jim McEwan, Andrew Laing, Scott Laing

Stewart Laing, Jim McEwan, Andrew Laing, Scott Laing, (Photo: Ralph Dunning)

Whisky distiller Jim McEwan has been appointed production director of Ardnahoe Distillery on Islay – 18 months after he retired.

The Islay-born whisky industry veteran, who has 53 years’ experience under his belt, has been hired by Hunter Laing & Co, the family-run Glasgow whisky company behind Ardnahoe, the first distillery to be built on Islay for more than a decade.  

Ardnahoe is being built on the north-east coast of Islay and will become the ninth distillery on the island. It expects to start distilling whisky in early 2018.

McEwan, who will also work on a number of other undisclosed creative projects, retired from the whisky industry in July 2015 after a career that began in 1963, and later saw his name become synonymous with both Islay and the Scotch whisky industry.

In his last role, he was master distiller at Bruichladdich Distillery for 15 years where he produced a series of innovative whiskies, including notably Octomore, the world’s most heavily-peated whisky, as well as revered Islay gin, The Botanist. 

Prior to that, he spent 38 years in a variety of roles at Bowmore, the distillery he first joined as a 15-year-old apprentice cooper in 1963.  During his career there, he worked in every aspect of the distillery, from warehousing and cellar master, to trainee blender, distillery manager and Global Brand Ambassador.

During his brief retirement, Mer McEwan turned his hand once again to gin distilling, spending time in the Australian rainforests sourcing botanicals to help Cape Byron Distillery launch Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin.

Andrew Laing, director of Hunter Laing & Co, said: “It’s hard to think of anyone better qualified than Jim McEwan to develop the character of the newest Islay malt whisky. 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.”

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