Pristine. Fresh. Enticing. Welcoming. And most of all Exciting! All words to describe something truly fantastic that is taking shape beyond the Scottish mainland’s North West coast. Whiskey enthusiasts the world over should be turning their heads and noses as one. Tucked down in the mouth of East Loch Tarbert on the Isle of Harris with rugged hills and a fresh North Atlantic breeze, here is the setting for a new, bold and very exciting whiskey venture. The Isle of Harris Distillery is Scotland’s newest distillery.
In fact the distillery is so new, a search on Google Maps will leave you none the wiser. But its location is no secret based on the mountaneous Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. And fear not, as is often the case with wild and woolly located distilleries, this one is quite easy to find; in fact the Tarbert ferry all but docks at the front door!
On September 24th 2015, the Distillery opened its doors to an invitation-only grand opening event and we were fortunate that this coincided with one our visits to this utterly superb Scottish Island; doors to the public officially open today, 1st October 2015. We couldn’t resist this chance to have a wee nosey round. Managing Director Simon Erlanger, a man who certainly knows his whisky, was kind enough to take time during the event to show us around the business end of his pristine and immaculate new distillery. Having the chance to see the copper stills, washbacks and mash tun before any ingredients or spirit has run through them, is not something many get to experience. And if the still room is anything go by, then this Harris Whiskey will be a fine dram indeed.
A great amount of care and attention has clearly gone into the design and development of this new distillery. With copper stills masterfully crafted in Italy and snugged down next to their fellow washbacks congregating next to their window with a stunning view, this will be a dram that benefits from such due care and attention.
But it is not just the spirit which is being given the first class treatment. Once the doors open fully, visitors will be treated to a superb visitor centre – although as Simon noted, they are not calling this a visitor centre, rather this is a working distillery that is open to visitors. This goes a long way to highlight how much distilleries have opened up since the first visitor centre was opened in 1969 at Glenfiddich. Before then they were very much working sites of production and business – stray tourists had to be kept in check by anyone who could step into a pair of tour guide shoes!
And this level of customer experience, offered by most distilleries these days, is certainly apparent here given the degree of transparency and openness afforded to visitors. The office window allows for a two way gaze between nosey tourists and friendly staff busy on the Hearach social media highway, conversing with global followers (Hearach being the name of their upcoming single malt whiskey and the Gaelic word for an inhabitant of Harris). There is a window between the warehouse and bottling plant; the connection from local water source to the final spirit heading off out the door will be an experience visitors will certainly enjoy.
What Simon and his team convey as being particularly important is the connection with the island itself. The distillery is aiming to act a as a boost to the local economy and draw more whiskey lovers across from the mainland – this will add to those already visiting the Abhain Dearg up the road on the Isle of Lewis and particularly from Skye where two other new distilleries are in progress. Is this the start of an all new whiskey island icon bringing together the islands of Skye, Lewis and Harris? Time will tell. In the meantime the empty casks are sitting waiting huddled like Antarctic Emperor Penguins for their warm spirit fill, ready to share with the warehouse’s Angels.
All here at TheWhiskyBarrel.com wish the team at The Isle of Harris Distillery all the very best with this new whiskey endeavour. We will be back to visit soon – especially given the hype surrounding the local food in the new café!