Rìgh Seumas is the name given to a pair of whiskies released by Murray McDavid. This independent bottler was founded by Mark Reynier and Simon Coughlin, two men who would later spearhead the revival of Bruichladdich on the isle of Islay. To guide them in that project, they enlisted the help of Jim McEwan, a distillery manager at Bowmore with considerable industry experience.
McEwan began working at Bowmore on the 1st of August 1963 as an apprentice cooper but went on to gain experience in every aspect of distilling. By 1971 he had been named cellar master before being transferred to Bridgeton in Glasgow to train as a blender. In 1978 he was appointed manager of the Tannochside Bonding Co but would later return to Islay in 1986 to serve as manager, running the distillery in which he began his career 23 years previously.
Whilst serving as manager, he began travelling the world as an ambassador, spreading the word, not just of Bowmore, but of Islay and Scotland to the rest of the world. Being away from home for 30 weeks of the year must have been a gruelling schedule however and after 37 years in the job Jim could have been forgiven for having one eye on retirement, but instead he accepted the invitation from Reynier and Coughlin and departed the company he had been with since leaving school, moving to the opposite shore of Loch Indaal, where a crumbling Bruichladdich lay in wait. Over the next 15 years he helped to relaunch the distillery, guiding its growth as its single malt became one of the most beloved in the world and developing the Port Charlotte and Octomore brands alongside the hugely successful Botanist gin.
In 2015, Mr McEwan finally got round to announcing his retirement from Bruichladdich, apparently bringing to an end an impressive career of 53 years. There were many who raised an eyebrow though, wondering how long it would take for a new project to appear on the horizon and sure enough, Jim soon found himself down under, advising on the development of the Cape Byron gin distillery in Australia’s Byron Bay. Then came an announcement in 2017 that he would be joining the team at Hunter Laing’s new Ardnahoe project, the opportunity to design a new Islay distillery from the ground up apparently too good to refuse.
Two years later, with Ardnahoe up and running and spirit flowing from the stills, Jim once again announced that it was time for him to step back from the industry he had devoted the last 56 years of his life to. Certainly no-one could grudge him some time with his feet up but with a series of single casks from his private stock appearing under the “Cask Whisperer” label and his name attached in an advisory capacity to a planning application for a new brewery and distillery submitted by the Islay Boys, it seems Mr McEwan hasn’t quite ran out of steam just yet.
Murray McDavid and Bruichladdich went their seperate ways when the distillery was taken over by Remy Cointreau in 2012, with the former sold to Aceo Ltd. Some of the stocks acquired by the new owners however, included liquid that had been casked by McEwan himself and it is one such blended malt that was first released under the name Rìgh Seumas – Gaelic for King James.
Full disclosure: I was given these samples by Murray McDavid so that I might share my thoughts with my readers. As always I will strive to give an honest and impartial view as to the inherent quality of the product and the value for money it represents.
Rìgh Seumas I “The Vatting” Aged 7 Years
A blended malt containing whiskies from the Highlands, Lowlands and Islay distilled in 2004 and matured in a combination of bourbon, wine and sherry casks before a finishing period in a first fill bourbon barrel.
Bottled at 50% and retails around £65.
Smell: An array of fruit. Raisins, prunes, grapes, raspberry, red apples… Also toffee, barley malt, cinnamon, pepper, oak and a wee touch of smoke. Wee bit of sulphury struck matches too.
Taste: Cherry. Strawberry and raisins. Biscuit. Chilli spice. Salt and pepper, Oak and subtle smoke.
Value for Money: £65 maybe falls on the steep side for a young blended malt but the quality of the experience lives up to the asking price.
A great big mouthful of juicy flavours. Not sure if balanced would be the appropriate term but certainly there’s no one note that dominates, instead, new flavours wash over the palate in waves, each element having its moment in the limelight before the next one rolls in. Great fun.
Rìgh Seumas II “Crafted Blend” Aged 10 Years
To create this blended scotch, Murray McDavid have taken the recipe used in the original, added some Speyside malt from Glen Moray and some grain whisky from Invergordon. Finished in sherry and wine hogsheads.
Bottled at 50% and retails around £45.
Smell: Crème brûlèe, butterscotch and caramel. Ozone and sea salt. Honey. Vanilla fudge. Slightly floral. Malt. Summer berries.
Taste: Juicy fruits and spice. Toffee. Creamy malt. Vanilla. Danish pastries. Salted caramel. Raspberry. Grape juice. Werther’s Originals butter candies.
Value for Money: Considerably more affordable than its sibling, this “crafted blend” version of the Rìgh Seumas recipe carries far more flavour than your average blended scotch.
Not quite as intense as the younger blended malt – there’s no rollercoaster ride here. Instead we get an altogether more civilised experience. It’s very well balanced, with those fruity, wine-like top notes sitting on top of a toffee malt backbone. A comforting sipper.
The indie bottling scene can be a wee bit samey sometimes and the market seems dominated at the minute by whisky from the likes of Aultmore, Teaninich, Benrinnes and Auchroisk, but Murray McDavid are able to offer more diversity than many of their contemporaries. Partly due to the impressive scope of a range that takes in single malt, blended malt, blended scotch and grain whisky but also down to their willingness to try different cask finishes, which help to create extra layers of flavour and provide the consumer with a different and often unusual experience. Their drams are both adventurous and delicious – a winning combination.
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