Ian MacMillan is the master distiller and blender of internationally award-winning Scotch whiskies including Scottish Leader, Black Bottle and the Bunnahabhain range of single malts.
Ian began his apprenticeship in 1973 at the Highland single malt distillery Glengoyne where he gained experience in cask handling, filling, warehousing, mashing and distilling. From 1973 to 1983 he specialised in grain distilling at both Port Dundas Distillery in Glasgow and Caledonian Distillery in Edinburgh.
This was followed by a slight change of direction with a transfer to London and a spell working at two of England’s most famous London Dry Gin distilleries from 1983 to 1989. A Scotsman in England seems somewhat out of place and in 1989 the Highlands of Scotland called Ian home and to his first love of whisky production. Here he supervised malt distilling at Glenturret Distillery and several other distilleries located in the Highlands and on the Islands of Scotland.
Ian joined Burn Stewart Distillers in 1991, when the company had just acquired Deanston Distillery in Perthshire. The first task was to overhaul and restore what was a mothballed distillery. Following extensive modifications, Deanston was soon producing some of the finest malts in its history. It took many hours of hard work to turn the distillery into the efficient production unit that it is today, with the colourful gleaming copper pipes and stills, and impressive maturation halls.
In 1993, Burn Stewart purchased the Tobermory Distillery, the only distillery on the Isle of Mull and, again, Ian turned the neglected distillery into a showpiece boasting a thriving visitor’s centre and producing excellent quality malts. The history of the distillery dates back to the late 18th century and celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1998.
With the acquisition in 2003 of the Bunnahabhain Distillery on the sheltered north-eastern coast of the Isle of Islay, an island renowned the world over for its intensely powerful and charismatic Scotch whiskies, Ian restructured this fine distillery to ensure the continued quality and consistency of the malts produced here. The distillery, built in 1881, lies close to the Margadale River and Bunnahabhain means “mouth of the river” in Scots Gaelic.
Ian has been instrumental in developing several extensions to the Bunnahabhain range of single malts with an 18 year old and a 25 year old introduced in 2006. The same year a classic 1971 Bunnahabhain vintage expression was released to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the distillery. In 2011 the distillery launched the limited edition 30 year old single malt of which only 357 bottles, each hand-numbered, were made available world-wide, carrying the 1980 vintage year on the label. And in 2012 he crafted the Bunnahabhain 40 year old, a rare single malt with only 750 bottles made available world-wide. Ian’s latest innovation is a Bunnahabhain single malt that has been aged in red wine casks. Exclusive to duty-free markets, this small single-malt batch has been named Eirigh na Greine (pronounced Ae-ree ne gray-nyuh and meaning Morning Sky in Gaelic) and features whiskies of various ages.
Ian also recently reinvented Black Bottle and Scottish Leader.
Black Bottle is celebrating its origins with a new retro look and blend. The new design has been inspired by a black bottle found in the company archives and that dates back to 1906, while the blend has been adjusted to reflect the recipe created in Aberdeen by Gordon Graham and his brothers, Charles and David, 135 years ago.
And South Africa was the first market globally to launch the new Scottish Leader. It has been revitalised with a new look, an enhanced recipe and the introduction of an additional, very premium Signature blend.
Ian has encouraged and mentored many talented individuals throughout his career and today all the distillery managers employed at the three Burn Stewart distilleries have been trained by Ian.