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McEwan leaves retirement for Islay’s Ardnahoe

Bruichladdich’s former master distiller, Jim McEwan, has come out of retirement to take up the position of production director at Hunter Laing & Co’s new Ardnahoe Distillery on Islay.

Jim McEwan (second from left) toasts his appointment with Hunter Laing & Co’s (left to right) Stewart Laing, Andrew Laing and Scott Laing

McEwan retired in July 2015 after 53 years in the Scotch whisky industry, and 15 years at Islay’s Bruichladdich.

He led a progressive production programme at the distillery, exploring the impact of barley variety, provenance, traceability and terroir. McEwan also created what is thought to be the world’s peatiest whisky collection – Octomore.

Before Bruichladdich, the Islay-born distiller spent 38 years at Bowmore, where he worked across a variety of roles before becoming distillery manager and global brand ambassador.

After just 18 months of retirement, McEwan has now joined Ardanoe, Hunter Laing’s first distillery, which is based on the north east coast of Islay and recently received planning approval.

Scotch whisky blender and bottler Hunter Laing announced its intention to build the £8 million Ardnanoe – Islay’s first new distillery in more than a decade – in January 2016.

The Glasgow-based company – run by Andrew and Scott Laing, along with their father, Stewart – expects Ardnahoe to start production in early 2018.

McEwan will “play a pivotal role” in shaping the design of Ardnahoe, as well as install his preferred pieces of equipment, lead the production processes and select casks. He will also work on a number of “secret” creative projects.

‘Meant to happen’

“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. When the call came in, it really excited me,” said McEwan.

“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.”

Ardanoe Distillery will produce a traditional peated single malt.

The distillery, based on an area of land previously owned by Islay Estates, will be built in two phases. The first will see the establishment of distilling operations, warehousing and a visitor centre comprising of a café, tasting room and shop. The second will see an expansion of distilling operations and further warehousing.

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

“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.”

Hunter Laing is set to take part in Feis Ile, The Islay Festival of Music and Malt, later this year, showcasing a number of Islay casks from the firm’s own stocks that have been selected by McEwan.

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