Jim McEwan

Big Score for Ardnahoe: Jim McEwan joins the team

Posted by: Ted

ardnahoe-distillery

With an area of only 620km2 (ok, 619.6km2 if you want to be precise) Islay isn’t exactly a huge place. But what it lacks for in size, it certainly makes up for in the number of distilleries it has nestled on its shores, boasting a total of eight whisky makers. Excitingly though, in 2018 things are set to get even more squishy with the completion of a brand new distillery.

Taking the name Ardnahoe from the nearby loch from which it will draw its water, the new distillery will be built to the north of Port Askaig, nestling in between venerable stalwarts Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain, and will boast magnificent views across the Sound of Islay to neighboring Jura. The venture represents the first new distillery to be built on Islay since the opening of Kilchoman in 2005.

Ardnahoe is owned by the Glasgow based Hunter Laing & Co, an independent bottler and blender established in 2013. Run by Stewart Laing and sons Andrew and Scott, the company owns brands such as Old & Rare, Old Malt Cask and The Sovereign.

Ardnahoe will be the first distillery owned by the company and will not only allow them to directly tap into the global demand for Islay whisky, but also to have complete control over the whole spirit-making process. While announcing the project greenlight last year, Andrew Laing noted that: ‘Since starting our company we’ve seen a huge demand for Islay whisky around the world, and now is the perfect time to make the progression from blenders and bottlers to distillers, and secure our own supply of Islay single malt.’

To help with that transition, Hunter Laing & Co has managed to lure a local legend and bona fide rockstar of the Scottish distilling scene out of retirement to act as their Production Manager. Jim McEwan, until recently Master Distiller for Islay mavericks Bruichladdich, will play a pivotal role at the distillery, supervising everything from production processes to cask selection and even design of the equipment.

jim-mcewan-n-co

Jim McEwan (second left) with the Ardnahoe team

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…

“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’.”

The Laing family are certainly excited about their choice of appointment too, with Andrew Laing proudly stating: “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”

All that remains to do now is wait for the distillery to bear fruit. While that day is still many seasons away, you can guarantee that with Jim McEwan at the helm and Hunter Laing & Co’s passion for quality, the drams plucked from the tree of Ardnahoe will be very tasty indeed.

Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated

Reviewed by: Nick

port-charlotte-sc-hp

It’s a fun bit of whisky trivia that Port Charlotte whisky is not actually made by the long-since-closed distillery of Port Charlotte. Instead, this particular drop is made by Bruichladdich Distillery as a tribute to their heavily peated ex-neighbours.

Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich’s head distiller at the time of this dram’s inception, wanted to recreate the flavour that the legendary old distillery was famous for. He tracked down a now 90 year-old former employee of Port Charlotte distillery and asked him what the whisky tasted like. “Aye,” said the old man, “aye, it tasted good.”

I for one certainly cannot deny that the product Jim has created to bear the Port Charlotte name tastes “good”. In fact, if I were to give my tasting notes in a solitary word, I would simply say: bacon. And everyone loves a bit of bacon, right?

Of course, this site is called ‘Whisky Waffle’, not ‘Whisky-we’ll-keep-it-brief-ok’. Apart from the latter sounding silly, we’ve found that we do rather like to bang on a bit with pretentious tasting notes. Speaking of which, this whisky has a nose like an Australian barbecue. Barley peated to 40 parts per million ensure smoke and cooked meat flavours waft oh-so-unsubtly over peppery notes and a dash of dark chocolate.

The palate is pleasantly spicy – no doubt an influence of the slightly higher bottling strength of 50%. The flavours on offer include salami, smoked salmon and of course, the aforementioned bacon. The meat theme lingers long after the whisky is gone, leaving the sensation of having polished off a particularly satisfactory scotch fillet (pun well and truly intended).

The release of the Port Charlotte range by Bruichladdich has rekindled an interest in the history of the grand old distillery and there have even been talks about building a new facility on the old site. However, this project seems to have stalled for the time being with no updates as to whether it might go ahead. Fortunately, thanks to this particular whisky, we have access to the next best thing: a dram that, seventy years from now, we can reflect on and happily label it as “good”.

★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

The Top 5 Islay Distilleries

Posted by: Nick

Streets of Bowmore whisky waffle

If I were to take four flights, one lengthy bus ride and a ferry crossing, as well as being broke and jetlagged, I would also be in my favourite place in the world, the mythical Isle of Islay. While my own home state of Tasmania contains many fantastic distilleries, I know that this Hebridean island will forever be: The Whisky Isle.

Islay is currently home to eight distilleries, which is not bad for a tiny island with a population that would fit into the MCG thirty times over. I do of course only speak hypothetically, because in real life the people of Islay would not deign to leave this most wonderful island – not even to attend the Boxing Day Test Match.

All eight Ileach distilleries make fascinating, varied and outstanding whiskies. But today I count down my top five favourites, those establishments that have helped shape the Whisky Waffler I am today.

5 Kilchoman

Kilchoman is the relative new kid on the block, only in operation since 2005, however the standard of whisky they are creating is astonishing. They take an old familiar flavour and reinvent it, producing something refreshingly new, and yet at the same time distinctly Islay.

One sip reflects the traditional Islay flavours that so perfectly accompany winter storms as they roll in off the Atlantic, testing the water proofing of the local cottages, and yet their whiskies are also bright, young, and energetic. They are surprisingly complex, and, most importantly of all, they are improving all the time. Kilchoman is that annoying combination of athleticism and brains: it is the top football star with the chiselled good looks that goes on to become a neurosurgeon. So with this in mind there is no doubt that Kilchoman is a distillery to watch out for in the future.

4 Bruichladdich

4 bruichladdich

Jim McEwan took over the then derelict Bruichladdich Distillery in 2001 and, after initially being called crazy, has seen it go from strength to strength. Known for its innovation, the distillery creates not one, not two, but three different series of bottlings, all with their unique style. Firstly and foremost are the lightly peated drams produced under their own name, Bruichladdich. Secondly, the more traditional and heavier-peated Port Charlotte, named after the long-since shut distillery that was once based a few miles away. Finally the famous (or infamous) Octomore range, marketed, correctly, as the most heavily peated whiskies in the world.

If I were to work at a distillery on Islay, this would have to be it. It combines traditional methods (the may-as-well-be-antique mashtuns) with experimentation (I heard rumour of a tequila cask hidden away in the bond store somewhere). Most of all, Bruichladdich are a community-focused distillery. Jim McEwan has achieved many great things across his career, but he claims the number of Ileach people he employs is the one that fills him with the most pride.

3 Laphroaig

3 Laphroaig whisky waffle

When you think Islay whiskies, you think peat – and no distillery on earth does peat like Laphroaig. The whisky produced here may not be to everyone’s taste, but it sure is to mine. One sniff transports me to bonfires, seaside camping trips and, as I discovered later, the sensation of getting out of the car on Islay and inhaling the peat-thick fresh air. The whisky made by Laphroaig is iconic and rightfully among the most famous made on the island.

Whiskies made at Laphroaig are unapologetic. If you don’t like your drams peated, run for the hills (if you can actually find any on Islay) as the manufacturers don’t care. I find this attitude appealing however. I know what I’m going to get from Laphroaig and I know that it will comfort me after a tough day at work or celebrate with me as I raise a toast with my friends.

While they have the second biggest output of any distillery on Islay, they still conduct traditional floor maltings and fire up their own peat kilns for a percentage of their product. I’ve been lucky enough to stand in the large kilns, and even luckier that this occurred while they were not operating! Laphroaig is Islay to a tee and an unmissable stop if you visit the island.

2 Lagavulin

2 Laga whisky waffle

First trying the Lagavulin 16 Year Old was a revelation in my whisky-drinking life. What was this spirit that burned like a roaring bonfire in my mouth? What were these charred-fruit flavours that followed? I’d certainly never tasted anything like it and I’ve certainly never looked back.

Several years later I have tried a range of peated whiskies and loved most of them. But the Lagavulin 16 is still up there amongst the best.

What separates Lagavulin from the rest is a sense of class. While other distilleries, rightfully, let the wild peat-monster roam free, Lagavulin has it well trained, even walking to heel. With some of the Distillers’ Editions it will even sit and roll over! This allows a magnificent balance between peat and sherry flavours which really sets it up as the classiest of Islay’s whiskies.

1 Ardbeg

1 Ardbeg whisky waffle

While all distilleries on Islay offer many brilliant and varied drams, it is Ardbeg that I believe captures the ‘spirit’ of the island the best. With a slab of peat, a splash of history and a smattering of actual magic, you cannot help but fall in love with the drams, the atmosphere and the portrait on the wall of Shortie the Dog, the Ardbeg mascot.

Ardbeg are famous for once a year releasing a frustratingly small amount of limited edition bottles which seem destined to sit unopened on wealthy collectors’ shelves. But on the rare occasion you get to try one, you will see what the hype is about: Alligator, Galileo and of course Supernova are all enticingly titled as well as deliciously flavoured.

Their regular bottles cannot be forgotten, either. In Uigeadail they have produced a strong candidate for worlds best peated whisky, the Coryvrekkan has one of the longest finishes going around (and around and around!) and as for their ‘entry level’ – is there a finer 10 year old bottle in world whisky? Possibly not.

Ardbeg is many people’s favourite distillery. And it is not hard to figure out why. Put simply, it is because it is among the best.

Nick at Port Ellen lighthouse whisky waffle

This list, of course, is only my (somewhat subjective) opinion. It is by no means definitive. What are your top five favourite Islay distilleries? Let us know in the comments and we will slam you for being wrong! Er… I mean, we will respect your opinion greatly! That’s the one!

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Posted by: Mooresy

Green label whisky waffle

Johnnie Walker Green Label is – or I should say was – a bit of an anomaly in the family. Unlike the others which are all blends including grain and non-malt whiskies, Green was a blended malt made up of only four whiskies, all single malts. This gave it the quality of arriving like a blend then developing on the palate more like a single malt. It’s nose complexity was also more akin to a single malt, and the better noses out there could probably pick the distilleries involved from the smell.

I happen to know what they were, but so as not to spoiler, you’ll have to ask me.

 

An elegy for Johnnie Green

Though caramel brown, your label was Green

With flavoured malt so crisp and clean

A complex coffee fruity smell

Vanilla and nuttiness went down well

The taste had cereals, chocolate and nuts

Not sharp or heavy but you sure had guts

A finish strong with walnuts and honey

Of Johnnie’s varieties you were worth the money

One day the factory shut you down

Scotch lovers everywhere gave a frown

No more would we have our favourite blend

A standout nip, a lifelong friend

Now we’re confined to Black and Red

That burns our nose and hurts our head

There’s lots of fine drams out there today

And where there’s a Walker there’s a will and a way

But for now we must simply say farewell

You were a classic, a legend and we think that you’re swell

 

Now a rare and hard to find malt, Green is consigned to the archive of Johnnie Walker’s bond store along with the Gold Label 18 (they’ve removed the age statement for the current variant) and the elusive Johnnie Walker White Label which I have never tasted. If you find a sealed bottle of Green, you may want to hold onto it for its value but I would strongly encourage you to pop the cork and taste a true exception to the rule. If you spot a half open bottle on a friend’s shelf or in a dark musty pub, encourage the friend to crack it at a party or buy it shot by shot from the wizened landlord.

If you are a single-malt snob who sees the word blended and runs a mile from the likes of Green and the very delicious Blue Hanger, thank you. More for the rest of us.

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?

The Whisky Waffle community

Posted by: Nick

The more I discover about the Tasmanian whisky scene, the more I appreciate the close-knit little community that has developed. People are friendly, enthusiastic and willing to help out one another to ensure this thriving industry continues to boom. Our website is only a tiny part of the bigger picture but we would love to help foster this sense of community.

And on that note, we would like to announce the next writer upon Whisky Waffle: YOU! Well – it could be you! If anyone has a piece they are keen to share with the world, or a dram they are desperate to review, send us an email at whiskywaffle@gmail.com and let us know!

So with no further ado may I introduce our first guest contributor: Mr Alex ‘Mooresy’ Moores!

Mooresy and Nick are in 'good spirits' after meeting Jim McEwan. See what I did there?

Mooresy and Nick are in ‘good spirits’ after meeting Jim McEwan. See what I did there?

I met Mooresy while attending the Jim McEwan night last Thursday and was impressed by his enthusiasm and passion for the water of life. His first review will hit the site tomorrow and I assure you, it’s a cracker of a read. Make sure you stop by to check it out!

Until then, keep waffling!

 

Photo provided by the TWAS. Used with permission.

Jim McEwan: the Rock-Star of Whisky

They say you should never meet your heroes. But in the case of Jim McEwan, master distiller of Bruichladdich, they could not be more wrong.

On Thursday the 9th of October, in Howrah of all places, I had the great pleasure to meet an absolute legend of the whisky world. His introductory spiel described him as “a man you should move heaven and earth to see”. He himself informed us that after six drams I would be thinking of him as a rock star. That wasn’t true. In my eyes, he was a rock star before I had touched a single drop.

The only photo I managed to get taken before my camera's memory filled up. Typical.

The only photo I managed to get taken before my cameras memory filled up. Typical.

Upon walking into the venue I could have been forgiven for feeling out of place. I was possibly the first person to ever wear a bow tie into the Shoreline Hotel. But I quickly realised I was right where I intended to be after spotting a who’s who of Tasmanian whisky: Tim Duckett. Dean Jackson. Casey and Jane Overeem. Richard Stewart. And of course, Robbie from Lark.

The person we had come to see, however, was from slightly further afield and made his entrance in a style befitting of a master Scottish distiller. Clad in a black suit with Bruichladdich-Blue shirt and tie, he marched into the room to the sound of blaring bagpipes. And there he was, the self-proclaimed ‘cask whisperer’ himself (he confessed he enjoyed talking to his whisky barrels with phrases such as: “you are so beautiful”).

Once our applause had died down, he congratulated the piper, Heath, handing him a dram of Islay’s finest. Upon watching Heath sample the whisky, he commented: “Never have I seen a piper take sips!”

Heath was quick to reply: “I was expecting it to be good!”

Jim laughed and grabbed a bottle to refill the glass and did so – right to the top!

It was a night full of similar banter and hilarious anecdotes providing many laughs for all in attendance. Jim confessed that when he begins nights such as this he doesn’t know what he’s going to say, much like fellow Scotsman, Billy Connolly. Hence, many rambling tangents were followed – and some great stories developed from them.

So many whisky fans in one room!

So many whisky fans in one room!

He began with praise for Tasmania, which filled my heart with pride. He had just attended what he described as his “twentieth tasting in two days” and was impressed with the Lark and Heartwood that he tried. Tasmania, he said, has many similarities with Scotland, and while at first this induced some home sickness, he confessed that after six drams of Lark whisky his pining was miraculously cured. His spiel concluded with the highest praise of all, confirming a belief many Tasmanians hold: “Tasmania is the new Islay”.

The tales continued throughout the night, and we heard the story of how Jim followed his heart to the closed and neglected Bruichladdich distillery and re-employed much of the same crew that used to work there: getting the band back together, Blues Brothers style.

He mentioned how the decision to make gin saved the distillery in financially troubled times, using the “traditional Scottish tactics of bribery and corruption” to convince a fellow gin maker from Birmingham to provide some know-how. ‘The Botanist’ is now a highly regarded product – even by me, the non-gin drinker!

Other stories were less relevant, but just as entertaining. For example the time in the 60s he met psychedelic rock star, Donovan.  Donovan had, remarkably, been sent to Islay to get ‘clean’; the result of which was many shouted drams for the locals, and Donovan leaving the island in an ambulance.

There were many, many more tall tales told as the whisky flowed: creative use of Heinz salad cream bottles – and Big Angus’ wellies, tasting notes for Japanese students that were lost in translation, advice for every male present to seek themselves a ‘man-cave’, and of course the knock on the door of Gunta (just after Scotland had defeated England 7-0 in the world cup final).

Perhaps the most poignant of all, however, was Jim’s belief in his community. Bruichladdich employs over 70 people on Islay. Many larger distilleries have no more than 6 staff members. It was that sense of the island coming together that instilled Jim with more pride than anything else he had achieved. I mentioned to him afterwards that of all the distilleries I had been to, Bruichladdich had the best people. “And isn’t that what counts?” he said, clearly chuffed.

Half a dozen drams - a quiet night for Jim McEwan!

Half a dozen drams – a quiet night for Jim McEwan!

The whisky, while not the main attraction of the night, was exceptional. The Laddie Classic was lightly salty, reflecting the conditions in which it was matured, but it was also floral and fruity. The Islay Barley was next, maltier, stronger, and one of Jim’s proudest accomplishments, having been grown, distilled and bottled all on site. “How many distilleries in the world can lay claim to that?” he asked. Redlands’ Dean Jackson just sat quietly.

This was followed by the Black Arts 03.1 – a whisky described by Jim as a “protest whisky”. It was his raised middle finger to the marketing team, to whom he would not reveal its cask types. He challenged us to guess for ourselves. The popular answer was sherry, although he was quick to point out that this was not the sole ingredient. “How many people have actually bought a bottle of sherry in the last six months?” he asked. In the entire room only two people raised their hand. “Sherry is dead in the water. We need to look further”. There were certainly some wine notes in amongst this whisky – it reminded me strongly of the Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve.

Curiously we then diverged from the tasting order. We moved straight to whisky number five, which was the Port Charlotte 10 Year Old. Named after a long since closed distillery, this whisky was coated in delicious swirling, but not overpowering, peat. There were apricots and other stone fruit flavours to be found and reminded me of Bruichladdich’s neighbour, Kilchoman. Jim told us he tracked down an aged old man who many years in the past had worked at the original Port Charlotte distillery. Upon being asked if he remembered the taste of the whisky, the response was: “Aye aye aye aye aye. Aye aye. Aye aye aye. Aye. It tasted good!”

Whisky number six was the famous Octomore 6.1, the most heavily peated whisky in the world. I must confess to having sampled this dram before and adoring it – although this experience was slightly different to the way I previously tried it. Jim encouraged us to take a generous glug, hold it in our mouths for 30 seconds before swallowing. He compared this sensation to Usain Bolt bursting from the blocks and after trying it, I could understand the analogy.

I must confess that I could not tell you much about whisky number four. At that point in the evening, Jim declared we were to do a highland toast. Left foot on a chair, right foot on the table we enthusiastically repeated many (mispronounced) Gaelic words, waving our glass about (trying not to spill any), before taking a generous swig. Amazingly, even after the quantity of whisky that had been consumed, no glasses (or bones) were broken, much to the relief of the nervous looking bar staff.

Allof us up on the table - and Jim was the most spritely!

Out of all of us, Jim was the most spritely!

The night concluded with a rendition of the Scottish national anthem – or so we thought until the Proclaimers ‘I would walk 500 miles’ blared through the speakers. Jim stood up the front and conducted our raucous chanting.

As the people filtered from the venue at the end of the night, I left enlightened, inspired and thoroughly entertained. Never had the community that accompanies whisky drinking been so apparent in Tasmania. We were united as one, all in awe of a man who we regarded as an idol: the master distiller. However at the same time upon meeting him and discovering how humble and down to earth he was, we were also able to describe him with the highest praise an Australian could give: Jim McEwan is a good bloke.

This bottle was coincidentally the same colour that Jim was wearing! And a bottle I will treasure forever.

This bottle was coincidentally the same colour that Jim was wearing! And a bottle I will treasure forever.

Jim McEwan comes to Tasmania

Jim pours generous nips

Jim pours generous nips

Posted by: Nick

Tasmania is certainly a rising star within the landscape of the whisky world. Evidence of this is the upcoming visit to Hobart by a man who can be aptly described as one of the world’s few ‘celebrity distillers’. This is none other than the incredible Jim McEwan, head distiller for the ground-breaking Bruichladdich Distillery.

Jim McEwan has been in charge of the spirit created at Bruichladdich since its reopening in 2001 and has been instrumental in acquiring the ‘progressive’ reputation of the distillery. Using different barrel types, aging processes and, occasionally, the most heavily peated malt the world has ever seen, he continually creates revolutionary whisky. Jim’s experimentation has not gone unrecognised; he is the only man to have been crowned ‘Whisky Distiller of the Year’ three times.

The event is to be on Thursday the 9th of October and is already sold out; this is to be expected from an event of this nature. But if you’re curious to find out what he has to say, fear not – as Whisky Waffle’s own Nick Turner will be there to learn from the master. Expect a blog post at the end of the week sharing some of the secrets and magic revealed by Jim on the night.

If you have any questions you would like Nick to ask Jim, write them in the comments and he will endeavour get you some answers!