Out in the Atlantic, off the North West coast of Scotland you will find the Isle of Harris. In October 2015 the Isle of Harris Distillery opened – the first distillery on the island! Standing at the head of the harbour in Tarbert, the distillery can’t be missed by anyone travelling to or from Harris. The Isle of Harris has very strong natural roots and so is full of contradictions being “wild and gentle, warm and calm, ancient and yet bubbling with life.” Everything in the Isle of Harris Distillery has a link to the Island itself and the Distillery is known as ‘The Social Distillery’.
The Beginning Of The Isle Of Harris Distillery
Seven long years went into the planning of the distillery. The idea was born out of a realisation that the island’s economic problems could be solved by putting the island’s natural assets to use. The aim was to bring Harris and all it’s qualities to the attention of a wider audience.
It was the love for the for Harris and its people that drove the creation of the Harris Distillery. The Distillery aims to be a ‘Social Distillery’, which aims to have the future of Harris as it’s main focus. The Distillery aims to enrich the island by creating an operation that will last and also send the spirit of Harris to the rest of the world.
The Isle of Harris Distillery is run by the ‘Tarbert Ten’, which is made up of local men and women. Each person has come from a different background and so have different talents to lend to Harris Distillery.
What The Distillery Has To Offer
During open hours you can visit the Harris Distillery at anytime and be welcomed by a roaring peat fire. The enthusiastic team will be ready to welcome you and regale you with stories of the Island and Distillery.
Visit the canteen for a taste of local produce. In the canteen you will be among workers taking a break from making spirits!
There are also tours available, however booking is essential. A local team member will be your guide and will give you a behind the scenes tour on which you will witness the heart of the distilling process. The tour will bring you closer to Island life and aims to increase your appreciation of the distillery.
The distilling process at Harris is heavily influenced by the island itself and the people that live and work there. And just as the seasons cannot be rushed, neither can the distilling process.
The Hearach is the single malt whisky that is being made at Harris Distillery. The word Hearach is the gaelic word for the people of Harris. The whisky is to be distilled, matured and bottled in Harris. Nature and nurture are two vital elements in the making of the whisky, and have also been an influence on the Hearach themselves.
Nature gives the ingredients for the whisky and helps the maturing process. The softest Hebridean water is used in the making of the whisky and the wind keeps the summers cool and the winters mild, making it the perfect climate for maturing whisky.
Nurturing takes place during the maturation process. Being matured in Bourbon and Sherry oak casks will have a major influence on the final product.
As single malt whisky is required by law to be at least three years old and the distillery only opened in 2015 (I am writing in 2016) the finished product is yet to be produced. Harris Distillery aim for their first batch to be available in 2019. The whisky fans can pre order a bottle (for quite a price for such a young whisky, however you do also get unlimited tours and become a part of history)! The batch is being called the ‘1916’ as it will be limited to 1916 bottles.
Isle Of Harris Gin
Whilst waiting for the whisky to mature, the distillery has not been idle! A small copper still, which has been affectionately named ‘The Dottach’, and nine botanicals are used to create a gin that capture the elemental nature of Harris.
Juniper, Cassia bark, Angelica root, Liquorice, Orris root, Bitter orange peel, Cubebs, Coriander and Sugar kelp all come together to make Harris Gin. The Sugar kelp defines the gin, giving it subtle coastal notes. The kelp is harvested by a local sea diver and is a natural and sustainable ingredient that gives the Harris Gin something different.
The Isle of Harris Distillery is a young distillery which has not even created its first batch yet! However, they have not been idle! Gin and tours are available! The distillery is worth a visit just to see the passion of the local people and the love they have for their Island!