The Islay-born whisky veteran, who has 53 years’ experience in the industry, has been hired by Hunter Laing & Co, for a new role at Ardnahoe, the first distillery to be built on Islay for more than a decade.
The new distillery, which is being built on the north-east coast of Islay and is set to become the ninth distillery on the island, expects to start distilling whisky in early 2018.
As Production Director at Ardnahoe Distillery, the Laing family - father Stewart and sons Andrew and Scott - who are industry veterans themselves, are expecting McEwan to play a pivotal role in establishing the new site.
From shaping its design and installing his preferred pieces of distilling equipment, to fine-tuning the production processes and selecting casks, he will influence every step of the whisky-making process at Ardnahoe.
The distillery, which will include a visitor centre café, shop and tasting room, will produce traditional peated Islay single malt.
McEwan will also work on a number of other as-yet-secret creative projects that the team are sure will make waves across the spirits world.
McEwan retired from the whisky industry in July 2015 after a prodigious 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, 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.
Reflecting on his choice to come out of retirement to work at Ardnahoe distillery, McEwan said: “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.
“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’.”
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”.
Hunter Laing & Co have also revealed that they will be taking part in Feis Ile, The Islay Festival of Music and Malt, which runs from the 26th May to 3rd June.
The exact details remain under wraps for now, but they will hosting tastings of casks from the Hunter Laing stocks which have been hand selected by McEwan.