Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Interview with Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich

I am honored to be able to present this interview with Mr. Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich as our first Interview here at American Scotch Review. Bruichladdich is one of my favorite distilleries because of their wide variety of expressions and their willingness to experiment. Also, all bottlings are non chill-filtered, and they never use caramel coloring. The distillery was mothballed in 1994 until it was purchased by a group of private investors led by Mark Reynier of Murray McDavid in December of 2000. This is when Jim McEwan was hired as Production Directory. My only issue with Bruichladdich is that their whisky is not as common as I would like. However, in certain circles, Bruichladdich is criticized for not having a core range, and for having too much variety. Some people have accused the distillery of experimenting with different types of finishes in order to hide flaws in inferior whiskies – in fact, this is probably one of the most controversial distilleries. To learn more about Bruichladdich click Here or Here

Q. You worked for Bowmore for many years before joining Bruichladdich. I understand that you started with Bowmore at the age of 15. What prompted the change to Bruichladdich ?

A. For the last 8 years of my time with Bowmore I was traveling 33 weeks a year around the world educating all sorts of people on Single Malt mainly Bowmore of course. I simply got tired of being away from my family and also wanted to return to making whisky, when the Bruichladdich offer came along it ticked all the boxes and it got me home again to Islay.

Q. Unfortunately, Bruichladdich is not seen as often as some other Single Malts in the U.S. Is this by design or will we have the pleasure of seeing your expressions in more places in the future?

We have our full range with the importer Winebow who are located in NJ and they are doing excellent work in getting the product on shelf. It takes as long to establish a brand as it does to mature the spirit and when you are a small company still trying to rebuild and improve a very old distillery the cash available has to stretch a long way, so our marketing budget compared with the larger companies is miniscule but word of mouth seems to be working well for us.

Q. What is your favorite expression in the Bruichladdich range?

A. Bruichladdich Classic is my regular dram at days end ,its a vatting of our Bruichladdich and older Bruichladdich from our predecessors and it works really well with the young guy and the older fella getting along just fine and that is what I am looking for.

Port Charlotte 8year old is our child and making me prouder by the day ,it's like watching your children growing up and develop into beautiful young people and PC8 is showing great potential and I want to be with him every step of the way and enjoy the taste differences as he develops.

Octomore Orpheus which is huge in peat terms and been ACED in Ch√Ęteau Petrus for some months has been a eye-opener and tastes brilliant ,the combo of smoke -mellow oak and the lush red fruit flavours of one of the greatest wines in the world is totally wicked ,you know you shouldn't do it but your on a one way ticket so if you can find it buy it and taste what is like no other Single Malt has been before. Life is too short .

Q. Do you ever drink whiskies other than Bruichladdich? If so, what are your favorites?

A. I drink little and taste many that way you survive and retain the gifts God gave you, under the Murray Mc David label which is our Independent Bottling line we have many of the great Single Malts from around the country and yesterday I tasted Glenlivet 1977 which had been ACED for short time in Y-Quem sauterne casks it was stunning a real elegant beauty,
On Monday it was a Mortlach 1994 from a refill bourbon hogshead, I love whisky from Mortlach as a blender in a former life this was THE Speyside that was the most sought after by all Blenders simply because of its strong character and great balance of Malt and oak.
So everyday or night ,time or place you find new opportunities to try some thing new and exciting ,it could be Keens Chop House in NYC or the Pot Still in Glasgow and how lucky are we to have this amazing menu of Scotland's best.

Q. One of the reasons I love Bruichladdich is because of the wide variety of expressions and experimentation. However, I have seen criticism of Bruichladdich because of the same thing. Some people even say that the reason Bruichladdich experiments so much is because you need to cover flaws in inferior whisky that you inherited from the previous owners. Would you care to address these rumors?

A. So many expressions ? is easy to explain if you have half a brain , this distillery closed in 1994 and reopened in May 2000 and then we waited a further 5 years before we started to use some of our distillate together with the stock that we had purchased from the previous owner along with the distillery, so for 11 years we have been waiting and during that period I created many small batch products which helped to fund our production, pay the salaries of 45 people, build a Bottling Hall, rebuild a Distillery and tons of other stuff. What should we have done? Watch the clock for 11years and borrow money from the bank at a huge rate of interest?
I don't think so.
Also one of the first things we did was to recask any spirit lying in what I considered to be less than perfect casks, a huge operation checking thousands of casks but it gave me a very clear picture that the spirit we had purchased was excellent.
Re many people saying the spirit was inferior I don't remember anyone being with me over the one year period that I spent on this operation so how would "some people " know .But there may be some geniuses out there who have some special skill that allows them to see inside a cask from hundreds of miles away. I would love to meet them and try and learn this skill it would save me coming to the Distillery I could simply do it from my bed.

Q. Bruichladdich is one of a few distilleries who are making whiskies which are very heavily peated. Do you think a whisky can be too heavily peated? Is there something that goes into the making of these whiskies that make them cost so much more than regular bottlings, or is it just the trendiness/limited availability/collector factor?

A. There are many Distilleries that make heavy peated malts ,why? Because many people love that style as the sales of Islay malts clearly show.

Why are our products more expensive ? well its 46.0% or indeed with Octomore it could 63.5% Alc ,its distilled stored and bottled on Islay with 40% of our production coming from Islay grown barley 4o% Organic from Inverness and 20% regular barley for Octomore and others. To grow Barley on Islay is expensive as the fertilizer has to be shipped in and the Barley sent to Inverness for malting and that's where the Ferry costs come into play, everything from bread to shampoo has to be shipped onto this and the other Scottish Island and in our case the bottles the cans the packaging and so on has come in and go back out and this costs money,yes. We could bottle and store on the Scottish mainland but what benefit would that be to the employment of Islay people? None.
Again the consumer has a choice he will find lots of Single Malts with cost reductions in the Supermarkets and they are all very good and mainly owned my a multi -national company, Bruichladdich is not- its owned by a small no. of whisky loving shareholders and of course everyone who is employed also has a stake in the company. Have you ever seen a cheap Rolls Royce.?
Limited editions are for us down to the stock levels we have as we await our own spirit aging and next year we reach 10 years so at last we can move forward with a exciting range of our own production ,It will be exciting and lots to talk about remember what does a consumer want > quality and choice and that's what we deliver.

Q. It seems to me that more people in the U.S. drink their whiskies on the rocks. Was Rocks designed with the American market in mind?

A. Rocks was designed with the US market in mind and yes it goes superbly with Ice because it is a young whisky full of life and excitement and perfect after a hard day at work and being stuck in traffic for 2 hours on your way home. Perfect before dinner and perfect with desert. Uncomplicated easy drinking without the need for any Bagpipes and haggis nonsense being fed into your already overloaded brain.

Q. Another distillery has an ad campaign that looks as if it was designed to attract younger people to the whisky market. Do you think this is a good idea?

A. Young people cannot afford to drink Single Malt at least in Scotland ,so things must be a whole lot better in your neck of the woods. Is it a good thing? Is any alcohol promotion? I don't know but companies spend a shedload of money doing it. It is said by those who know that the entry age for Single Malt consumers is 25 years of age.

Q. What do you feel is the future of Single Malt Whisky?

A. I have to hope that's the future is bright for Single Malt, the range is greater the quality consistent, the knowledge of the consumer is higher and it's the real deal, there are so many drinks available all based on Neutral Alcohol with flavourings and no heritage, no pride of ownership, its all about build a brand load it with bullshit and flog it. That's why God gave us the Scots whisky he knew we would love and cherish it and we do.

Q. Do you have any projects in the works that you would like to share with our readers?

A. Projects in the Works, you better believe it .Look out for our new Gin made with 21 Botanicals from Islay its makes a stunning Martini.

Q. I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons I am a fan of Bruichladdich is because of the wide variety. For the same reason, I enjoy expressions from independent bottlers.
How do you feel about independent bottlers? Are they good for the industry?

A. Independent Bottlers, I love them .We are one.

Q. Is there a specific whisky, good or bad, that brings back fond memories for you?

A. Having the privilege to grow up with and help select the Black Bowmore range, as most of the great guys who made it had passed on before it was bottled ,but when you tasted it you could feel their presence.