Even in a business noted for colorful personalities, Jim McEwan stands out among Scotch distillers. An Islay native who worked his way up to master distiller at Bowmore, McEwan won his employer many awards through his experiments with older whiskies and new kinds of casks (port, Bordeaux). A sort of ambassador of whisky appreciation, McEwan radiates a passion for Scotch that has made converts worldwide.
Now McEwan has set a new challenge for himself: reviving a defunct distillery. Early this year, a group of private investors acquired the Bruichladdich Distillery, which had been closed since 1995, and hired McEwan to start it up again. McEwan plans to make "a pure whisky, the old-fashioned way," without chill-filtration or caramel coloring. The news both excited and teased whisky connoisseurs, who will have to wait years for McEwan's first spirits to mature. But he has something to help them pass the time; with the acquisition came thousands of casks that have been aging for years. McEwan drew on those to bottle three distinct expressions of Bruichladdich. The 10-year-old whisky carries a whiff of sea air, while at 15 years, it turns warm and toasty. The 20-year-old has rich, sweet aromas of ripe fruit and lemony shortbread. "I want to let the character of each whisky come through," McEwan says, "to show the stillman's craft in the glass" (www.bruichladdich.com).