Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A morning dram with Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich

When I heard Jim McEwan was going to be in San Francisco for the first time in seven years, I cancelled all appointments and called in a favor from a lovely French maiden who was able to get me a 30 minute one-on-one with the godfather of single malt. For those of you who do not know Jim McEwan, not only is he the most highly regarded distiller in the world, he is probably the most irreverent and amicable Scotsman I’ve ever encountered. For 48 years he has distilled, sourced and blended some of the purest and most innovative drams in all of Scotland and this was his last trip to the U.S. before retirement – which sadly, is not far away.

As with anyone of his stature, I knew that even in 30 minutes I would walk away with a wealth of knowledge and understanding that I did not have before. To capture the moment, I brought a camera along just to make sure I didn't miss anything. Please watch the interview below…

After the camera stopped rolling, I sat down alongside a couple dozen colleagues to a whisky seminar featuring Bruichladdich (brook-lad-dee) and Port Charlotte single malts. Mr. McEwan began by telling stories about what whisky means to him. He showed us the picture of his home, only 45 paces to the Bruichladdich distillery doors, where every evening he grabs a bottle of young whisky (7-12 years old) lights up a cigar, and as he put it “…for 20 minutes, the worries of the world around me go away and I don’t give a shit!” Those of you like me, who light up a cigar and sip on single malt from time to time, can appreciate such a statement. He continued to talk about the time that whisky made him weep, which at first, threw almost everyone in the room for a loop. It was when he was working for Bowmore distillery and putting together the now infamous “Black Bowmore.” He sat down at a table with several 35-50 year old whiskies adding bits and pieces of each to make a monolithic single malt, when all of a sudden the whiskies started “talking” to him. You see, each whisky he put in the blend was made by an old friend or family member that once worked for Bowmore and have long since passed. All of a sudden the dram he had put together started to come alive and at that moment, when he heard the voices, the tears came and he knew he had the right blend for his masterpiece. As you can imagine, the room fell silent with that story.

Having heard these and many other stories straight from the horse’s mouth was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget, and it gives me great pleasure to share it with all of you.

Cheers,

--Stefan Matulich, Spirits Buyer

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