The Isle of Harris, standing out in the Atlantic on the far northwestern edge of Scotland, is an elemental place, full of contradictions: wild and gentle, warm and calm, ancient and yet bubbling with life.
There are few places on earth where an evening around the fire can be as welcoming or as full of cheer. At the head of the harbour in East Loch Tarbert, visible to everyone arriving there by land or sea, the first whisky distillery in Harris is starting to take shape.
From October 2015, we will be open every day bar the Sabbath for people to see what we are doing. It will be a welcoming place, with a peat fire glowing at its heart, the flavours of the island in the canteen and the feeling that here in the distillery you will find something of the essence of Harris.
Where it all Began
The concept for the distillery grew out of a realisation that the island's natural assets could best be harnessed to address its acute economic problems through a project that brings this special place and its qualities to the attention of a wider audience.
The Social Distillery
The creation of the Isle of Harris Distillery in Tarbert is thus driven by a deep and abiding love for the beauty and wit of this place and its people.
We want to make a 'Social Distillery', with the future of Harris at its heart, not only to enrich the island, creating an enterprise that will thrive for decades and even centuries to come, but to send the magical, elusive spirit of the island out into the world.
We do hope that you will recognise something 'set apart' in what Isle of Harris Distillers are doing and be inspired to participate in the realisation of its vision.
We hope you'll visit us at 'The Social Distillery' and feel part of the work we are doing here in Harris. You'll find an open door and a peat fire burning in our hearth, as well as an enthusiastic team ready to share our stories and give you a feeling of real island hospitality.
Our canteen will offer you the chance to sample some delicous local produce alongside the men and women taking a break from making our spirit. The distillery shop will be filled with interesting goods, all with a connection to Harris, as well as our own bottled wares.
And while you're very welcome to cross our threshold at any time, our tours will allow you to go behind the scenes and witness the heart of the distilling operation. Guided by knowledgeable local staff, each new visit will bring you closer to island life, deepening your appreciation of the distillery and how Harris makes its spirits.
During the winter months we will be holding tours on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11am. If you would like to book a tour please contact us on 01859 502212.
We look forward to meeting you very soon and until then do stay in touch.
Good whisky making is a long-term affair and not the sort of creative process in which to find instant gratification.
Our venture has been seven years in the planning (two years longer than it's taken to raise young John, our production manager's son) and it will be several more before The Hearach is boldly glowing in its bottle.
However, we do have a number of ways in which you can get involved in the story of The Hearach right here and now, at its very beginning.
Distilling spirit is what we do, but we are making something more here in Harris. With a distillery set firmly in the heart of our island, the influences of people and place are woven through our work.
The elemental nature of our island is unavoidable and permeates our daily life as we join malted barley and yeast with the softest of local waters, come wild winter rain or the welcome summer sunshine.
Skilled local hands set to work daily, as with vigour we craft our spirit here in Tarbert. Care is taken, the values of thought and reflection tempering the processes, the importance of the job at hand always presiding. We work with purpose to bring forth a spirit we can be proud of, for our community and the generations to come.
What we make here represents us all and we take time to do it right. We believe in the luxury of time, knowing that just as the seasons cannot be rushed so too our work cannot be defined by the stopwatch. Life here, with its lesser pressures, will dictate when things are ready and right.
The final results of our endeavours will always be a reflection of us, revealed to the world only when we feel it’s worthy to bear our name. Open, straight and true, we will always keep learning, striving to make the very best of our island spirits as we go.
The Dancing Stills
Malted barley, yeast and pure, clear Harris water…the simplest of ingredients and all that are physically required to make our Hearach whisky. Yet there are many other elements that play a crucial role in defining the dram that is eventually poured into a patiently waiting glass, not least the most elemental of metals which form the whisky still.
The golden curves of our copper pot stills are beautiful to behold. Wide-hipped and graceful of neck, strong and full of stature, their skin is the catalyst for magical chemistry, their body the perfect conductor of heat, transforming the mash into the warm glow of raw spirit. Hidden within, Maillard reactions and many other complex interactions produce esters, fusel oils and furfurals from which, between the foreshots and feints, our skilled distillers will extract clear spirit.
We have two whisky stills at the Isle of Harris distillery, a Wash still and a Spirit still. Manufactured close to the Tuscan town of Siena, their bespoke design is both honest and unfussy, with clean lines which will neither dominate nor dictate the spirit type, but rather allow the character of the island to shine through. Not overly tall nor especially squat, the dimensions and descending lyne arms will promote a certain body in all our new make spirit.
As is tradition, we have given our Spirit still a name, now christened Eva. Her story will be told in future but not only is she beautiful, she is capable too. With her very own purifier she will also be able to create a less robust style of Hearach, if we ask her nicely. Meantime however, she is being lacquered and polished in situ by the Tuscan craftsmen who recently travelled to our shores, to make ready for her moment to truly shine.
We call these our dancing stills, their unusual orientation and close condensers reminiscent of an intricate Eightsome Reel or the raised twirls of a Gay Gordons. Together they bring life to our distillery’s ceilidh and the results of their jig will eventually bring likewise to whisky lovers the world over. Soon their first proper dance, to the tunes called by our distillers, will begin, the temperature rising as their spirit flows…
Our mash tuns