The whiskies produced on the Hebridean island of Islay are world renowned. But what makes these whiskies unique? Are they manifestations of the physical attributes of the island – the climate, the water, the barley, and the peat – or are they instead the consequence of centuries of craft and human artifice in the form of the malting, brewing, and distilling processes? In a tasting and debate chaired by the esteemed drinks writer Andrew Jefford, we will be joined by representatives from two of the leading Islay distilleries, Bruichladdich and Lagavulin, each to present their case as to how and why their whisky is distinctive. The aim will not be to ‘prove’ that ‘terroir exists’ or doesn’t exist for malt whisky, but to understand where the differences come from.
About the speakers
Andrew Jefford writes and broadcasts about different places on earth, and the foods, drinks and scents connected with them. He is a contributing editor to both Decanter and The World of Fine Wine and the author of The New France (2002) and Peat Smoke and Spirit: A Portrait of Islay and its Whiskies (2004). Andrew blogs as Jefford on Monday on the Decanter.com website.
Production Director and Head Distiller, Bruichladdich Distillery . Jim McEwan was born in the village of Bowmore on the island of Islay in 1948 and started work as an apprentice cooper at Bowmore Distillery at the age of fifteen. Over the subsequent fifty years he has worked in just about every position within the Scotch whisky industry. At Bowmore he gained experience in every aspect of distillation, from warehousing through to mashing and malting; he was appointed cellar master by the time he was twenty two. After eight years in Glasgow to train as a blender, he returned to Bowmore as general manager in 1984. Looking to move back to the distilling side of the business, in 2001 he joined the team looking to buy Bruichladdich and bring the old Victorian distillery back from the dead.
Widely regarded as the leading ambassador for Islay whisky, Jim has won just about every award possible in the world of malt whisky. He was still at Bowmore when he became the first ‘living whisky hero’ on the cover of Whisky Magazine. The IWSC has named him Distiller of the Year on multiple occasions.
Dr Nicholas Morgan, BA, PhD, FR Hist Soc, FSA Scot
Head of Whisky Outreach, Diageo . Dr Nicholas Morgan is Head of Whisky Outreach at Diageo plc, and is a leading global authority on the Scotch whisky industry, the marketing of Scotch Whisky around the world, and the history of its great blends and personalities.
With over twenty years experience in the Scotch Whisky business his role is to inform, educate and motivate key influencers for the Scotch category and Diageo’s brands, in particular its unrivalled portfolio of Blended Scotch Whiskies. In doing so he works very closely with Johnnie Walker® Master Blender Jim Beveridge and the Whisky Specialist Team in Scotland.
Capturing a share of voice in the global conversation about whisky in all major markets, and targeting whisky writers and experts, bloggers, more general drinks writers, business commentators and food writers with compelling, informative and infectious messages are key to his activities. Diageo’s unrivalled expertise and knowledge, the company’s extraordinary passion for the whisky category, and his own reputation and credibility provide a rich backdrop to this ambition.
Before moving into this newly-created position, his role as Scotch Heritage Director was to champion the deep-rooted heritage of the company and its famous whisky brands in Scotland, conscious that consumers – particularly of Scotch whisky – seek to recognize the provenance of what they are drinking.
Prior to that, he worked for many years in Diageo’s global malt whisky marketing team as Marketing Director where, working closely with flavour experts and distillers, he was responsible for a number of key innovations such as the development of the Talisker™ range, the introduction of the Special Releases programme, and the development of The Singleton™ of Glen Ord™, spending much of his time visiting distilleries in Scotland, and travelling to existing and developing malt whisky markets. He was also responsible for the creation of enduring training programmes to help marketers and external commentators understand more about the mysteries of distillation, maturation and flavour. And he led the category in pioneering, with Diageo’s Classic Malts, the now widespread practice of pairing whisky with food from many countries and traditions.
Nick Morgan originally joined United Distillers (now Diageo plc) in 1990, when he was responsible for establishing the company’s archives, now probably the world’s largest collection of historical material relating to the spirits industry. In the course of this work he has become an acknowledged expert on the history of the Scotch whisky distilling industry. Diageo plc is the largest producer of Scotch whisky and the largest brand-owning company in the Scotch Whisky industry and Nick Morgan’s knowledge of these famous and historic brands (including of course Johnnie Walker, Buchanan’s™, and J&B™), the men and women who created them, and the strategies which made them world famous, is unsurpassed.
Before joining the company he taught modern Scottish History in the Scottish History Department at the University of Glasgow, where he was also responsible for the innovative application of computers to teaching and research throughout the History departments. In 1993 he published an edited version of his doctoral thesis, Lancashire Quakers and the establishment 1660-1730. He also completed an introductory chapter on the building of the City for the second volume of the History of Glasgow, and was a contributor and associate editor of the Dictionary of Scottish Business Biography.
He writes occasionally on a range of subjects related to single malt and blended Scotch whisky, and music.
Site Operations Manager, Lagavulin Distillery. Georgie moved to Islay as a child when her parents bought The Ardview Inn in Port Ellen. She attended Port Ellen Primary School and later Islay High School, then moved to Crieff.
But her family roots on the island go much further back: on her father’s side, the family traces its origins back to the 13th Century when the MacMhuirrichs (later Currie) clan were the hereditary story tellers to the Lords of the Isles at Finlaggan Castle.
In her early twenties Georgie ran a series of bars and restaurants in Edinburgh before being offered the position of Assistant Venue Manager of The Vaults, the home of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in 2002, where her love affair with whisky began. An astonishingly fortunate apprenticeship opened up: she was lucky to work with great whisky enthusiasts and ambassadors and began to train her nose on a huge range of single malt whiskies. As well as managing the front of house and members’ room she also sat on the tasting panel, helping to decide what casks were selected for bottling. She also hosted numerous tasting events not just in Edinburgh but the length and breadth of the country.
After years of living at a fast pace in the capital city Georgie was offered the job of manager of The Whisky Shop Dufftown in early 2006. This small but famous and busy shop is deeply involved in running events for both the Spirit of Speyside Festival and the Dufftown Autumn Whisky Festival. Alongside organising and hosting many of the 100+ whisky events the shop hosts every year, she also set up their online retail business.
In 2007, Georgie applied for and was appointed to the Brand Home Manager role at Talisker Distillery, and she moved to Skye in 2007. After two and a half exciting years at Talisker she had set her heart on a move into production so she applied herself to some intensive training in the Glen Ord Group of sites – Glen Ord Distillery & Maltings but mostly Teaninich Distillery.
While there, she was approached about a move to Islay as the Manager at Lagavulin; and was delighted to return to Islay 20 years to the week that she left at 13 years old – though she had kept her connection to Islay strong by coming home a couple of times a year to visit family.
She says: “Being here at Lagavulin is like being reconnected with a big extended family you didn’t realise you had. Everyone looks out for each other and is genuinely interested and passionate about the product we make here, which I love.”