The Isle of Harris Distillery opened its doors in September, the culmination of a seven-year drive to establish the Hebridean island’s first commercial whisky distillery.
The social distillery, as it has become known, will bring a hugely important economic boost to the island ultimately providing 20 vital jobs in an area where long-term employment is difficult to find.
And, reflecting the Social Distillery’s place at the heart of the island, the whole population of Harris has been invited to take part in the opening celebrations.
“Our story is absolutely connected to island life,” said managing director Simon Erlanger, “it’s about the people of Harris and we want to show that in the celebrations for our opening.”
Chairman and founder of IHD Anderson Bakewell said:”It is on this special island that conditions prevail for the production and maturation of a unique and exceedingly fine malt whisky. As if that was not enough, we have every expectation that it should inspire creative initiatives- entrepreneurial, cultural and social- for the benefit of the island’s future, helping to retain those here and attract back those who left.”
The official opening began at 2pm on September 24 with a ceremony at the newly-built distillery in Tarbert, at which three generations of the island’s people took the leading role. Retired Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the Western Isles John Murdo Morrison, MBE, the distillery’s Guest Team Manager and mother of two Shona Macleod and children from Harris’s two primary schools, which have been working on a project on the new distillery, were chosen to perform the opening ceremony.
The Harris representatives each placed a peat on the fire in the distillery foyer, symbolising the warmth of Harris hospitality as well as playing an important part in the flavour of whisky. A speech was made to assembled guests by Mr Bakewell who had the vision some years ago to create the distillery. “I had often wondered if it would be possible to put the essence of Harris in a bottle”, said Anderson, “so a distillery was the natural answer.”
The distillery was later thrown open for guests to walk around and get a close-up view of the operation for themselves before gathering for refreshments in the distillery canteen – and a first taste of the distillery’s own production.
Isle of Harris Distillers will be producing the equivalent of 300,000 bottles a year of its single malt The Hearach, the Gaelic word for an inhabitant of Harris, but this will not be available for a number of years during its maturation.
However, the Company will also be producing a highly distinctive gin which has been given a unique Harris character by the inclusion of Sugar Kelp harvested from the seas off the island and guests were able to sample this innovative product for the first time at the opening. The gin will only be on sale direct from the distillery as part of the Company’s desire to build as close personal relationships with consumers as possible.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Whisky is loved around the world and many island communities already reap the benefits of having a distillery through sustaining jobs, attracting visitors and supporting tourism businesses. I’m delighted to see the distillery open and am sure that the whisky will develop a great reputation for quality.”