In Memoriam: Dr. Jim Swan “the Eistein of Whisky” (1941-2017)
We all know that February 14, celebrated as Valentine’s Day, is the day of love. Red roses and chocolates are shared among lovers. Romance is everywhere in the air. Things were a bit different for us this year when we saw news about the death of Dr. Jim Swan. This is one of the key persons behind the success of the famous Kavalan and a lot more brands. His contributions are so important to the industry and he is also known among people in the field as “the Einstein of Whisky” and “the ultimate whisky troubleshooter”.
He passed away peacefully at the age of 75, at his home in Edinburgh, Scotland.
We believe that not so many people outside the whisky industry know about his great account and importance to whisky production around the world. However, we are changing it today. We would like to see all of us whisky drinkers recalling this man each time we have a chance to enjoy decent whisky. Let’s get to know him together.
Jim Swan is known among whisky blenders as No.1 consultant and a leading expert of the field. Although this man always claimed that he graduated from “the University of Life”, he actually got a doctoral degree in chemistry and biological sciences from Heriot-Watt University. After his graduation, he went on to become a pioneer who smoothly “blended” the traditional method of grain spirits production with modern sciences. The results? Well, a lot of great whiskies today have to give all the credit to this achievement.
Dr. Jim Swan was proficient in Gas chromatography and co-founded a project that has turned into the prestigious Scotch Whisky Research Institute – SWRI.
His colleagues and he were the collectors and creators of the well-known “Flavor Wheel” that is widely used as a standard to describe the tastes of Scotch whisky. Later on, he focused his interest in the art and science of maturation – which subsequently made him a true master in this particular field. He was accepted around the world that he probably was the only person who knew the best about the effects of wood in whisky production.
Jim Swan was recognized as a hard-working man. He loved his work and passionately developed so many projects that helped shaping the industry significantly. He co-founded a private laboratory dedicated to food and drink analysis. At the same time, he travelled the world relentlessly to consult a countless number of distilleries. It is worth noting that, there are several interesting comments from his peers about his charming calmness and gentleness in spite of his tight and hectic work schedule. Impressive.
Perhaps the nature of Scotch whisky was reflected in him.
Even though his late roles in the production sector of the industry mostly came from his work with Taiwan’s King Car and its renowned single-malt whisky “Kavalan”, his influence could also be seen at many other places; Welsh Whisky Company, Israel’s Milk and Honey Distillery, Dublin Distillery Company, and Lindores Abbey Distillery, to name just a few. Most of his works focused on the techniques used to improve the overall characteristics of whisky from a new distillery.
Every time that you drink whisky and think about its origin, history and all the pleasant flavors, we would like to invite you to also recall that there are so many people currently working really hard behind the scene; risk takers, lab operators, experienced consultants, for example.
We could have a grateful sip for them.
And please don’t forget that the next February 14 will not be just another Valentine’s Day, but also a time for us, whisky lovers, to drink a good one for Dr. Jim Swan. J
Find some Kavalan whiskies which are awarded from World Whisky Awards in 2015 and 2016