A dram online

A dram online

Bruichladdich's Jim McEwan is set to bring his whisky tasting sessions into your home. Mike Gerrard reports

News 25 Sep 2003 | Interviews | By Mike Gerrard

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Islay is the kind of island where you see otters washing themselves just offshore in the bays at the end of the day. Near Port Ellen is what the Ileachs know as Seal Bay, and as the sun goes down, a young girl stands playing her violin because she says it charms the seals out of the water.There are deer on the island too, and ancient Celtic crosses. Oh yes, and a solitary cyber café is a nod to the modern world.Islay is also home to seven distilleries, all now owned by international corporations, with one exception: Bruichladdich.It is also the only distillery where no computers are used in the process, mainly because it is still using the original splendid equipment dating from 1881.But despite that, Bruichladdich is one technological step ahead of its rivals. Having been the first distillery to put live webcams onto its website, in August it will become the first to offer what must be the dram-lover’s dream: online whisky tasting. It’s the brainchild of master distiller Jim
McEwan, an Islay man who in August also celebrates 40 years in the whisky business.“What Jim doesn’t know about whisky you can write on the back of a postage stamp,” one of his island rivals admitted. Now his lifelong expertise will be available live online to anyone with internet access, thanks to the monthly sessions that are due to commence in August.“It’s a very practical thing for us,” Jim tells me.“We get far more invitations to do tasting sessions and presentations than we can possibly handle.“I spend lots of my time travelling the world as it is, so this way I can reach many more people and stay at home too. Doing all that travelling is exhausting, especially when you start from Islay.“It takes a day just to get to Glasgow and back, let alone flying anywhere. We’ll still do the more important presentations in person, of course, but by using the internet, we’ll be able to reach all those far-flung whisky appreciation societies around the world, which we wouldn’t otherwise be able to get to.”News of the sessions will be posted on the Bruichladdich website, and emailed to their mailing list a week beforehand, ensuring everyone has time to get some Bruichladdich in before going online. Anyone with a reasonably fast internet connection will be able to log on, and the sessions will be interactive too.“I’ll take questions and answer them online,” says Jim. “It’ll be live for anyone with the right equipment, otherwise they can email their questions to me.”While Bruichladdich is decidedly hi-tech in this respect, it is still delightfully old-fashioned in the distillery itself. Jim is clearly proud of the original equipment from 1881.“It hadn’t been operated since 1993,” Jim tells me. “It was like the Marie Celeste when we took over. We hired all the guys who were made redundant by Jim Beam in 1993, and got them back making whisky again. They couldn’t wait. The idea was to use the original equipment, and after doing it up we’ve succeeded in that.“There’s not a computer here. All the other distillers use computers to measure alcohol content and make the adjustments. We do it by taste and smell. The human nose is better than any computer.”As we walk round, Jim suddenly says to me: “I’ve been lying. There are two computers in the distillery.”He points them out to me. One is a blackboard and chalk, where various weights and measures are recorded, and the other is a piece of string with a weight on the end, recording the level of liquid in one of the vats. “That’s as high-tech as we get in here,” he says.For details of online whisky-tasting sessions with Jim McEwan, log on to www.bruichladdich.com
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