Jim McEwan returns to Islay whisky distilling at Ardnahoe

Islay Whisky News & LinksYes, it’s the first of the month. No, it’s not April. It’s February. In other words, this is not an April Fools. Some rather interesting news have come out about Islay and whisky legend (or is it whisky and Islay legend?) Jim McEwan in connection with the currently under construction Ardnahoe distillery overlooking the Sound of Islay. From the press release:

World-renowned whisky distiller Jim McEwan has been appointed Production Director of Ardnahoe Distillery on Islay – 18 months after he retired.

The Islay-born whisky industry icon, who has 53 years’ experience under his belt, has been hired by Hunter Laing & Co, the family-run Glasgow whisky company behind Ardnahoe, the first distillery to be built on Islay for more than a decade.

Ardnahoe is being built on the north-east coast of Islay and will become the ninth distillery on the island. It expects to start distilling whisky in early 2018.

As Production Director at Ardnahoe Distillery, McEwan is playing a pivotal role at the distillery for the Laing family – father Stewart and sons Andrew and Scott. From shaping its design and installing his preferred pieces of distilling equipment, to fine-tuning the production processes and selecting casks, he will influence every step of the whisky-making journey at Ardnahoe.

The distillery, which will include a visitor centre café, shop and tasting room, will produce traditional peated Islay single malt.

McEwan will also work on a number of other as-yet-secret creative projects that are sure to make waves across the spirits world.

Picture of Jim McEwan with the Laing family
l-r Stewart Laing, Jim McEwan, Andrew Laing, Scott Laing, Photo credit – Ralph Dunning

Many will of course know Jim from his roles at Bruichladdich and Bowmore in his previous lives. As Master Distiller at Bruichladdich he’s remembered for famous whiskies like the Octomore and the mysterious Black Art. Not to forget bringing gin to Islay with The Botanist. Before joining Bruichladdich he had spent 38 years at Bowmore distillery in almost every role imaginable after starting his career there in 1963 as a 15 year old apprentice cooper.

Jim is quoted as saying:

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’.

Similarly Andrew Laing, Director of Hunter Laing & Co, said:

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

For further news and updates you can follow @Ardnahoe distillery on Twitter, including expected announcements about their planned participation in the Islay Festival in late May.

Enjoying an Islay ATC 1.1 Real Ale

Islay LinksSomething slightly different this evening. Usually the whiskies or beers I mention on this blog are from Islay or at least somewhere in Argyll. This one is from much further afield (from Stonehaven to be precise), but it has been influenced by Islay. Last weekend I stumbled over this tweet:

Having asked for more information I found out it’s a beer brewed by sixº north in Scotland in collaboration with Brouwerij De Ranke in Belgium, aged in Islay whisky casks. I was also told it was available to order online at EeBria, on an impulse I went ahead and ordered some. It doesn’t come cheap, but I decided it was worth it for a treat. The description reads:

This six malt dark brooding beer, fermented in hand picked Islay Whisky casks for 6 months producing a subtle yet balanced typical Islay infusion with hints of Caramel, Dark Fruits, Oak and Fino Sherry.

A few days later the three bottles (+ three others I had also ordered to taste some other time) had arrived:

Picture of 3 bottles of beer called Islay ATC 1.1

This evening it was time to open the first bottle. Keeping in mind that it is 9.2% alcohol I decided one bottle would have to be enough, even though it is only a 330ml bottle. As a pint glass was all that I had available the presentation is a bit lacking, but at least you get an idea:

Picture of a bottle of beer called Islay ATC 1.1 poured into a glass

I’m no good in tasting and tasting notes, but I must say the description of ‘dark brooding’ hits it for me. That’s really what it seems to be. To me it appeared very smooth, velvety, dark and heavy. But also fruity. Very nice. I’ll certainly enjoy the remaining bottles, money well spent.

I know there are other Islay cask aged real ales out there, certainly something I’ll explore further in the future.

The Coaltown Daisies have an (Islay) whisky song

Islay MusicSome music for this Friday evening. Islay related in a number of ways: to start with the song is about whisky. Then it is written and performed by a band who often visits Islay. And large parts of the video were filmed on Islay. I think that’s plenty enough reasons to share it here:

More from the band:

Swimming from Islay to Ireland

Islay EventsI’ve heard of various ways to get across the North Channel from Islay to Ireland (or vice versa). By plane. By boat (mainly RIB). By Laser sailing dinghy. By kayak. By stand up paddle board. I don’t think I’ve heard of swimming before. That might be about to change:

I don’t know more than is mentioned in the blog post New Swimspiration, The Celtic Quadrant (and the links posted there) I came across today. Of the four swims included in the quadrant one is the following:

The Oa Channel Swim, a 45 km 6-person relay between the Isle of Islay and Ireland in 11°C to 13°C water at £200 per swimmer with a window between 15–20 July 2017 with an estimated time of 18+ hours for crossing.

Further links:

Certainly sounds like quite a challenge to me…

Mark visits the Port Ellen Maltings on Islay

Islay on VideoMark Gillespie of WhiskyCast is probably mainly known for his whisky related podcasts. However, he also produces videos and I think I probably have shared one or two of his videos before. Recently he published a video about a visit to the Port Ellen Maltings, a place not many get to see, although he kind of picked the wrong day (for reasons explained in the video):

In the video Mark mentions that today only a handful of distilleries do any of their own malting. If memory serves me right there are only about six or seven distilleries left in Scotland who do this, three of them are actually on Islay: Laphroaig, Bowmore and Kilchoman.

Islay Blogging Roundup NC #1

Islay Blogging RoundupWhen I relaunched the blog I mentioned that I was thinking about bringing the Islay blogging roundup back (but retiring the Friday Islay picture). Well then, here we go. It won’t be the regular Sunday every week as I used to do it, instead it will be whenever I find it’s suitable and I have come across enough interesting posts. And I will restart the count, which is why this is the Islay Blogging Roundup NC (for New Count) #1. Here we go:

The Scotch Cinema has been around for quite some time and is still going strong. Recently the had not just one, but THREE Laphroaig Sightings in One Movie. Some older Laphroaig sightings are also mentioned in their related links.

From a German music blog we learn that Amy Macdonald isn’t a whisky drinker but her father is partial to a wee dram and in particular a Bruichladdich from Islay.

Malted (a whisky blog in its day job) has a very interesting post with old Islay pictures in Islay Photographs 1902-1960. On the same blog we also find Islay and RAF Port Ellen.

Heiko from Switzerland documents his visit to Laphroaig with lots of pictures.

Sometimes I find Islay references in rather unexpected places like a post Sleep inducing molecules: Propofol, for January 2017 on the Liverpool Life Sciences UTC Innovation Labs. I didn’t fully understand it, but there’s some kind of link between Propofol and the Phenols Islay whiskies are famous for.

I’m not sure if it’s the type of book I’d read, but may be some of my German readers are interested in reading Die verhexten Zombiekarnickel and report back what they think? Apparently zombies, witches and distilleries are involved.

For daily updates about the bird sightings on Islay you of course still have to go to the Islay Birds blog. Posts that caught my even recently were a Whitefront with a neck ring, the New Year’s day post with the annual rainfall figures and a flock of Twites. In addition to that the RSPB Blog also has a great entry about Twite on The Oa.

I’ve stopped the Friday Islay picture, but how about you instead take a look at the Friday fold: Smaull Graywacke at Saligo Bay, Islay? Or the Friday fold: Machir Bay I and Friday fold: Machir Bay II?

The iLaddie Whisky Nerd from the Netherlands visited Islay late last year (I helped him a bit during his preparations), he has a whole Islay Trip category on his blog.

Marc Calhoun takes us to Cashels of the Hebrides, which includes one on Nave Island just off Ardnave on Islay.

Alaina and Philip visited Islay mainly for the whisky distilleries, you can read about their visit in ISLAY, SCOTLAND: A TRAVELOGUE.

Henryk visited Islay as part of a Scotland trip, you can find some great pictures in Urlaub 2016 Schottlands Nordwesten – Teil 3: Isle of Mull, Islay Scotland und JuraUrlaub 2016 Schottlands Nordwesten – Teil 3.5: Kilchoman Distillery and Session @ Port Charlotte Hotel Islay.

I think I’ll leave it at that, the Islay Blogging Roundup NC #1 is done. The next one will appear as and when I’ve come across enough good blog entries worth mentioning. If you have one (or know of one) you think I should mention by all means send me the link.

Donald and Lady experience winter storms on Islay

Islay on VideoAs during every winter Islay is being battered by storms again. Donald and his dog Lady were visiting over Christmas, just as two storms were passing over. So Donald picked up his camera and went out to film some of the action. And Lady just enjoyed being out to investigate what the storm brought:

Vote for Islay High at FilmG 2017

Islay NewsI’ve lost count how many times a team from Islay High School / Àrd-sgoil Ìle has submitted an entry to the annual FilmG (GD/EN) competition, it’s certainly been many times. It’s an annual event where young people write, film and edit a short film in Gaelic (hence the G in the name). This year’s entry is called ‘Air Splaoid’ and many will recognise events portrait in the movie:

For those who (like me) don’t have the Gaelic, here’s the English description:

Five school friends are all packed ready to go to FilmG Awards in Glasgow when they discover the ferry’s cancelled. They set off on a trip to find alternative means of transport to the mainland and some funny things happen on the way.

But now to the important part, as already mentioned you need to vote for Islay High in the People’s Choice Vote. As of Saturday the 7th of Jan the entry was in the top 20! Now make sure it wins:

You can do this on the two pages for their submission, Air Splaoid GD and Air Splaoid EN. They are both for the same film, just the text on the page is in Gaelic and English respectively. Click on the yellow ‘Vote’ button and you’re done. You can vote once a day, voting is open until February. Hopefully we will see Islay High at the awards ceremony in Glasgow on 17/February.

‘Revisiting’ the Laphroaig Islay single malt whisky bread

Islay Whisky News & LinksOver the Christmas and New Year long weekends I made two batches of he Laphroaig Islay single malt whisky truffles, more about that over the coming days. This morning I decided I felt like making some whisky bread again. There was enough Laphroaig left and a quick rummage through my kitchen showed I had most of the ingredients I wanted (the missing one wasn’t essential), so I set to work based on a bread I had made with Bruichladdich previously.

Picture of a cut open bread with a whisky bottle next to it

Here are the ingredients in the order used:

  • Strong stoneground wholemeal bread flour ~250g
  • Strong white bread flour ~150g
  • Wholegrain seeded bread flour ~50g
  • Roasted chopped hazelnuts ~50g
  • Sunflower seeds ~50g
  • (Fast action / Easy bake) Dried yeast ~15g (I used two 7g sachets and a pinch of loose yeast)
  • Extra virgin olive oil ~2 tablespoons
  • Islay single malt whisky (in this case Laphroaig 10yo) ~¼pint
  • Hot water ~¼pint

This is the process I used:

  • Preheat oven to 220°C and make sure the kitchen is warm (helps the bread to rise)
  • Measure all dry ingredients into a bowl
  • In a jug mix the whisky and the hot water (in the original recipe I adopted for this recipe you would use ½pint of warm water. Mixing the room temperature whisky with the hot water should result in a warm mixture)
  • add the olive oil as well as the whisky and water mixture to the dry ingredients
  • thoroughly mix/knead the mixture, I let my kitchen machine do the work for about 15 minutes, may be slightly longer
  • Move dough into large bowl and let rise covered by a tea towel for at least 30 minutes, ideally longer. It won’t rise much, but will rise a bit
  • Beat down, knead again and put into silicon baking form or onto baking tray. Let rest again (covered with a towel) for at least 20 minutes, ideally longer
  • Bake at 220°C (fan assisted) for approx 30 minutes

That’s it. Cut open and enjoy. I think it tastes very nice, just with some butter. There’s a mellow Islay whisky taste, but I don’t think it’s overpowering. Very enjoyable.

PS: the non-essential missing ingredient was an egg. I would have liked to glaze the bread with egg and sprinkled it with more sunflower seeds. But that’s not crucially important.

Video of the new Isle of Jura golf course (currently under construction)

Jura ExcursionsI must admit I’ve got mixed feelings watching this video. Over the years I’ve visited the now closed Jura House Gardens many times. I’ve walked along the shore at Ardfin at least twice. With the new private golf course (at least that’s my understanding, it’s a private course with no or only very limited public access) this is all history. At the same time the views in this video look spectacular:

So those privileged few who play golf and get a chance to play this course will certainly have a fantastic time. The ‘common’ people as well as people who prefer a rugged more natural landscape will almost certainly lose out.