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Issue 90 - Dr in demand

Whisky Magazine Issue 90
September 2010


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Dr in demand

Dr Jim Swan plays a key role in the whisky industry and is at the forefront of innovation. And as Dominic Roskrow discovered, he's very much in demand.

Saying that Dr Jim Swan is quite a busy man is a little like saying that Usain Bolt is quite a fast runner. If you haven't heard of him (Swan that is, not Bolt), then that's not altogether surprising. He operates in the whisky industry's shadows, a behind the scenes guy who pops up where he's needed, does what he needs to do without fuss or favour, then moves on. He doesn't advertise or seek the limelight but the industry knows who and where he is, and they use him when they need to.

If you've met him you're lucky – I've managed it just once in nine years. But visit enough distilleries and it won't be long before you come to one where he's just been or is about to arrive.

He is the whisky industry's answer to Thunderbirds, a one man international rescue service who travels across the world to help distilleries in distress or to advise would-be whisky makers on the best and most realistic way of achieving their goals.

And he's busy. Very busy. So busy in fact that it takes us months to organise an interview. At one point there's a possibility of meeting in St Pancras International Station but the window turns out to be too small.

Heathrow perhaps, before Swan flies out to India? Nope. Heathrow on his way back?

Not happening. Eventually we manage a telephone conversation.

“You have been particularly unlucky,” he laughs when we finally speak. “The volcanic ash affected me severely and none of the meetings which were put off at that time were cancelled, just postpon...

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