I first met Jim Swan in 2009 at my first IWSC judging sessions.
My first impressions – which remain true to this day – is of a man who knew more than all of us put together when it comes to whisky-making, and particularly distillery start-up and wood management.
He reminded me, both physically, and in his temperament, of another classy person, Sir Bobby Robson, the England football manager. Both went about their business quietly, determinedly and successfully, but without being abrasive or divisive.
More importantly for me, though, was the way in which he chose to deliver the literally encyclopedic knowledge he possessed. In no way was he guarded, conceited or challenging. I spent one night having dinner with him, one to one, and I came away feeling enlightened and very very lucky. Any information I was looking for was given freely and without prejudice. That I forgot most of what he told me is not his fault, it was mine for not having a note book. What I do remember I still use to this day.
Unlike a few of his ‘contemporaries’, he seemingly had no ego and was warm and welcoming to me and encouraging of bringing new people into the whisky fold.
What, I think, was most impressive though, was the way many of the other distillers in our group – many of them very well-known – would swarm to him looking for advice and picking his brain. Which he would provide. Freely.
I have no experience of him from a practical, distilling point of view, but one only has to look at the current crop of new distilleries around the world, as well as those that have utilised his services over the last 20 years, to recognise his achievements. I would have relished the opportunity to work with him on a distilling project, but it was not to be.
What he leaves behind is a legacy of how to do it. Simply that.
His work will last the passage of time and I believe he will one day be recognised – if he isn’t already – as the most important figure in modern distilling in the late 20th/early 21st Century.