Whisky no more for retiring master distiller James

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Isle of Arran Distillers’ production director James MacTaggart is hanging up his valinch on his retiral from the whisky industry.

Master distiller James came to Lochranza distillery in 2007, taking over from Gordon Mitchell and since then has been in charge of all aspects of production guiding the company through the release of key age statements like the 14, 18, 21 and 25-year-old expressions. He also worked closely with Lagg distillery manager Graham Omand in the establishment of the company’s second distillery at the south end of the island.

Originally from Islay, his long career in the whisky industry spans 45 years which began at Bowmore, where he had a direct involvement in producing the spirit which would later become some of the world’s most revered and sought-after Scotch whisky. During his time there, due to being known for his tendency to ‘speak up for the boys’, he was the team representative at pay and pension talks as well as being on the staff liaison panel alongside senior management at the company’s head office.

He accepted The Queen’s Award for Industry from HM Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in 1998 on behalf of Bowmore.

James has been pivotal to the success of the Arran single malt and company in general over the past 14 years and will be hugely missed by the team.

His labour is starting to bear fruit as the brand and the Arran 10-year-old single malt garners more and more attention for quality and no-nonsense style – a MacTaggart hallmark, that the distillery will continue to uphold indefinitely. He also designed and commissioned the plant at Lagg distillery with an equal measure of traditional and modern in classic MacTaggart style.

An Arran Distillers spokeswoman said: ‘James has had a hand in literally every facet of whisky production for the best part of 45 years – rather than someone who has specialised in a single department – and as such has an exceptionally broad understanding of the product which has developed to the point of second nature/instinct. He is not someone who has ever pushed his way towards the limelight and would far rather make an impact by influencing from the inside out – positively supporting and inspiring the people around him.

‘He is of the most traditional school possible, however, he is more than willing to accept change and modernise methods and thinking, as long as it is not at the cost of the quality of the spirit or end product.

‘His personality is genuine, disarming, confident, quiet and cheeky in equal measure. We have been very lucky to have him around as a role model for younger members of staff. The fact his initials remain on his old locker in the still house at Bowmore, despite him not working there in 14 years, tells you all you need to know about his reputation there. He thoroughly deserves recognition for his impact on the industry.

‘We’ll miss you James, but we know you’ll never be a stranger. Enjoy every moment of your well-earned retirement,’ she added. James is expected to spend his retiral on Islay.


James being presented with a box crystal whisky glasses by managing director Euan Mitchell when he was named head of the White Stag Community in 2017. No_B53james01

James tests the whisky with his valinch in the warehouse at Lochranza distillery. NO_B53james02

A young James at work in a distillery. NO_B53james03