Jim McEwan Tribute – Mackmyra, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Octomore

We kicked off our new year with a rather clever range of whiskies from “That Boutique-y Whisky Company“.

Our original whisky group general taste blind, and initially on the reveal, you could be forgiven for thinking the theme was to feature whiskies from independent bottler.

However the theme taped into substance even more than style… paying tribute to whisky veteran Jim McEwan. With over 50 years of industry experience, he isn’t slowing down and after officially retiring from Bruichladdich is now involved with a new Scottish distillery – Ardnahoe.

Here is what we sampled…. with a bit of insight into the Jim McEwan connect…

Bowmore 27 year, Batch 5, 47.6% (TBWC)McEwan 1983 – 2000

Where Jim began his career at 15 in 1963 as an apprentice cooper, then warehousing, mashing and malting, becoming cellar master. He then moved to Glasgow to become a trainee Blender in 1976, then manager of The Tannochside Bonding Co (Bowmore facility) in 1978. He returned to Bowmore Distillery in 1986 as the manager and stayed for 12 years.

“It was during this time in Bowmore that I started travelling to various whisky events around the world, initially a few times per year but building up to acting as Ambassador and travelling globally about 30 plus weeks per year.” (excerpt from Jim McEwan’s biography).

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Bruichladdich 13 year, Batch 11, 47.6% (TBWC) McEwan 2001 – 2015

In 2000, McEwan was approached by Gordon Wright who planned to purchase Bruichladdich Distillery together with Mark Reynier and Simon Coughlin. McEwan joined as Master Distiller and Production Director. The work then began to dismantle and reassemble the distillery, keeping much of the Victorian decor and equipment.

“The last 12 years with Bruichladdich have been a roller-coaster ride but to see the progress we have made and the friends we have gained, has been the most wonderful experience. To bring this old distillery back from the dead to become 3 times “Distillery of the Year”, 4 times Innovator of the Year plus a host of other awards from around the world has been incredible….  For Bruichladdich to become the cult figure it is, whilst employing so many good Islay people, is for me my greatest reward.” (excerpt from Jim McEwan’s biography).

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Octomore 6 year, Batch 1, 50.4% (TBWC) – McEwan 2001 – 2015

McEwan was the mastermind behind this super heavily peated Islay dram that defies convention. He began distilling Octomore in 2002 and his last (7.1) was released in 2017. With peat levels ranging from 80.5 ppm to 208 ppm, what makes Octomore remarkable – even with all its variation – is its multidimensional character. An Octomore is never merely a peat monster… in fact some of the expressions are outstanding and somehow magically come out the other side of peat to something incredibly silky smooth with no peat punch.

“Octomore is the wild card in the pack and without doubt the guy who drives you crazy but steals your heart every time. Sometimes the peating level is 167 ppm and sometimes it’s 200ppm, we just gave you whatever nature gave us and boy has the wild young islander delivered time after time.” (Interview with Whisky Tower)

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Mackmyra 3 year, Batch 1, 47.2% (TBWC) Personal connect

And the relationship with Mackmyra?

I have long been a fan of Mackmyra and I share a small cask with my good friend Angela who is their Chief Blender. We first met when I was the Manager at Bowmore so we we back a long way, she really has the knowledge and the passion that is required to bring the best to the table which she does consistently, so yes I enjoy their single malts very much and I look forward to trying my share our cask which I know will be very drinkable and not for sharing with those who know not the art of distillation.” (Interview with Whisky Tower)

It was a terrific theme and such a treat!

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The “Sublime” One – TBWC’s Octomore 6 year 50.4%

Our host decided to pay tribute to whisky veteran Jim McEwan with an interesting line-up bottled by “That Boutique-y Whisky Company.”

Truth be told, had our explorations of the 3rd whisky been wildly successful, we likely would have stopped there. Three really is a perfect tasting number. However the Bruichladdich was such a peculiar one that our host brought out one more…

And…. we were so LUCKY that he did!

So, why did Jim McEwan create Octomore? Here is what he has to say:

‘I was tired of people saying that Bruichladdich wasn’t a true Islay as it wasn’t peated. From 1881 to 1960 it was peated. I resurrected a peated malt and called it Port Charlotte to stop those people. Then I decided to make Octomore to shut everyone up for ever.’

We sampled the Octomore blind, followed by the surprising reveal…

Octomore 6 year, Batch 1, 50.4% (TBWC) Bottle 608 of 796

  • Nose – Wonderful! Oil and peat, lemon, wet fur, a wild marine sea spray, some sea weed, shifting into a rich sweet spice, roasted cinnamon
  • Palate – Ooooooh! Gorgeous and just simply – beautiful. It rolled around like silk, with such a lovely balance, something to savour…
  • Finish – What a pleasure! A long delicious spice

We loved the peat as it was perfectly balanced, not too heavy, none of that asphalt or ashtray peat… just salt sweat and peat in delightful harmony. In short it was sublime!

The debate began – leave perfection as is? Or add some water…

We gave in to temptation… and discovered it was even better?! Bringing out a lovely earthy quality on the nose, initially so much yummy spice on the palate, then settled down to become even more enjoyable, shifting between cinnamon toast, salty toffee, simply delicious!

It was absolutely unanimous – we all agreed this was a brilliant dram. One to just enjoy. We ran out of words as we sat back and simply indulged, feeling exceedingly pampered.

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Here is what the folks over at That Boutique-y Whisky Company have to say about their 2nd batch as the notes for the 1st batch are no longer available:

The discovery of our bottling of Octomore single malt is displayed on its label in three acts. Act I: Research. Act II: Revelation. Act III: Request. A timeless tale for the ages. The most heavily-peated whiskies from Islay-based distillery Bruichladdich are released under the name Octomore, and they have a reputation for being particularly intense…

Tasting notes:

  • Nose: Medicinal peaty notes with polished leather. Liquorice toffees, charcoal burning smoke and sea spray.
  • Palate: Sweet white grapes, prickly pepper, with a woody bonfire smoke and a pinch of salt. 
  • Finish: Dry, spicy, and that hint of salt is still there while the smoke lingers

And what would this Octomore set you back for a 50 cl bottle? The recommended retail price is £144.95.

What did we sample in our tribute to Jim McEwan?

As for other Octomore explorations? Here are a few highlights:

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TBWC’s Bowmore 27 year 47.6% aka The “Green Pepper” Dram

There are times when a whisky sings a particular note… with such clarity and consistency that your impression of that dram is forever associated with that note.

I must admit, until this Bowmore, green pepper was never such a singular stubborn element.

We sampled it blind before the reveal.

Bowmore 27 year, Batch 5, 47.6% (TBWC) Bottle 94 of 285

  • Nose – Peat and how! Crazy sweet peat, bit of funk, fruit, some phenols, medical, surgery, bill capsules, VERY sweet, mulberry
  • Palate – Fresh capsicum which seamlessly follows through on the finish, a bit of green tea…
  • Finish – Dry and pure capsicum

After the 1st sip, it was pretty clear this whisky needs some time to settle down…

  • Nose – How interesting… the peat ran off, barley sugar, toffee, something almost like apple sauce, lemon curd tart, and apricots
  • Palate – A bit of spice, cinnamon, a bit bitter at the front
  • Finish – A nice cinnamon

We set it aside and what did we find?

  • Nose – Green capsicum
  • Palate – Goodness! Green capsicum
  • Finish – And…. gee….. Green capsicum

Now before you start to think green capsicum is a bad thing, it was actually quite good!

Giving even more time, we could detect a hint of ash. Even later… pickle? Yup… pickle.

This is one of those whiskies which is worth checking out but…  certainly not an every day dram. Instead one of those whiskies that works best when you are in the mood for it… particularly if you happen to enjoy…. yup… Green Capsicum!

What do the folks at That Boutique-y Whisky Company have to say?

The massively well-loved Bowmore distillery has resided on the Isle of Islay since 1779 – it’s the oldest Islay whisky distillery and it’s still going even today! The distillery is home to its very own malting floor, an eight ton stainless steel mash tun, six wash backs and two pairs of stills, which actually produce enough heat not only to make their lovely peated whisky, but the waste heat from the stills heats the nearby pool! The label features a young lad with a freshly-swiped bra from the pool’s changing rooms legging it from one of the pool’s lifeguards.

Unfortunately the Bowmore batch 5 / 27 year has been replaced by batch 12 / 19 year on the TBWC website, however you can read what the chaps at Master of Malt have to say:

  • Nose: Salted butter, aromatic cedar, a whiff of floral malt developing beside classic coastal air.
  • Palate: Good cider, slightly vegetal at points, smoke meat and fried banana.
  • Finish: Slightly oily. Sea salt, lemon-flavoured boiled sweets.

So they didn’t discover any green capsicum, but can see some of the elements they found in there too.

What else did we sample in our evening tribute to Jim McEwan with whiskies bottled by “That Boutique-y Whisky Company”?

Clearly no stranger to Bowmore, here are a few sampled over the years…

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Whisky Live Singapore – Bruichladdich Black Art 4.1

One of the special treats from Whisky Live Singapore was an opportunity to sample whiskies I could otherwise never try.

One of the highlights was the Bruichladdich booth with many delights… the pinnacle of which was the mysterious marvel from Master Distiller Jim McEwan otherwise known as ‘Black Art’. The thinking behind this bewitching series is the alchemy of art and science, a secret recipe concocted by the master distiller, without divulging the magic behind the art.

Photo: Bruichladdich.com

Photo: Bruichladdich.com

Bruichladdich Black Art 4.1 23 year (1990) 49.2%

  • Nose – Honey sweet, warm sunshine citrus and much more…
  • Palate – Gorgeous, very well rounded, stunning, smooth as silk
  • Finish – Beautiful ripe fruit sherry finish

This was not a bold brash Bruichladdich but instead a something that contradictorily was both a soft, delicate delight, beyond beautiful while equally being rich, deep and sinfully smooth.

I must confess, my wee nip did not do it justice. This is not the whisky you want to ‘speed date‘. This is the kind of whisky you want to savour and enjoy, either solo or sharing with friends.

Here is what they say:

  • Nose – The aromas rise and mingle beautifully creating an olfactory symphony in your hand. Little notes of rich, plump, crystallised grapes flirt over heavier notes of honey. Go deeper and you will find the tang of lemon and lime – This is the DNA of our Bruichladdich spirit; the terroir of ancient peat lands and Islay’s exposed coastline, living, breathing proof that magic really does exist.
  • Palate – Without water the first thought that enters my head is wow! This is strong and my cheeks flush, my eyes water but my heart is in heaven. Its so, so mellow and mature and yes, you can find all of the aromatics on the taste buds and more!!! I get chocolate and coconut, tangerine and papaya and a wonderful infusion of barley sugar with a pinch of cinnamon and aniseed. Completely mesmerising.
  • Finish – Grilled peach and apricot sprinkled with demerera sugar, quite outstanding.
  • Mood – Drink whenever you wish, with whomever you wish. The last to leave will be the angels who danced with the devil and won.

PS I had a wee ‘sneak peak’ sip of the Black Arts 5.1 – What a stunner! Full of dry, fruit that became juicier the longer one sipped, a burst of rich fall colours and closed on a dry spice. For me, 4.1 was summer and 5.1 autumn. Both remarkable whiskies and a treat to taste – even if just a sweet nip!

A few other Bruichladdich whiskies sampled include:

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