When on holiday in the beautiful Outer Hebridian Isle of Harris, what could be better than a visit to the Isle of Harris Distillery for a tour and tasting?
The Isle of Harris is remote and in the far north west of Scotland. We travelled through half of England, the lowlands and Highlands of Scotland before arriving at the west coast village of Kyle of Lochalsh. We took the bridge over to the Isle of Skye and travelled the length of the island to the small township of Uig. From here the Calmac ferry took us across the Minch to the town of Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.
We based our holiday in the south of the island among all the wonderful white beaches of Harris. Our journey to Tarbert was a 16 mile car trip along the sheep strewn single track roads. Tarbert is the largest village on South Harris, home to the Cal Mac ferry terminal connecting the island to Skye and mainland Scotland. Next door to the ferry terminal is the home of the Isle of Harris Social Distillery. The Distillery was the brainchild of Anderson ‘Burr’ Bakewell in 2007. He realised that for the island to thrive, someone had to bring jobs to the island and set up a lasting legacy for future generations.
As we entered the distillery, a welcome sight was the peat fire burning in the heart of the visitor area. We joined one of the popular tasting tours that take you behind the scenes.
The tour starts off in the tasting room with the flavour abacus. The abacus has Harris Tweed coloured beads to illustrate how the whisky flavours will balance in the finished whisky. We were given two samples of whisky to try. One was a potent neat whisky around 65% proof straight from the still, the other was a blend of 3 single malt whiskies, to give us an idea of how the Hearach whisky would taste.
The tour continued upstairs where we found out more about the ingredients and methods used to create the perfect whisky. Sandra gave us the gin botanicals to smell before we tasted the Harris Gin. We also found out about how special the branding is to the Island. The distillery logo and gorgeous gin bottle design have encompassed many island characteristics including wind, rock water and the warm heart of the island. The bottles are an amazing design and are highly sort after.
Next we moved into the brewing and distilling room where all the magic happens. Although brewing had finished for the day, we were able to see inside the 5 mash tuns and see the brew in its various stages.
Remember distilling in your school chemistry lessons and watching the liquid come slowly out drop by drop? Oh no, here it runs out in a quick stream from ‘The Dottach’, the little gin still named after a small but feisty local lady!
The Ageing Warehouse was the last room on the tour. Barrel upon barrel of the first exclusive run of 2016 brewed whisky are lying maturing in oak barrels. They all belong to individual owners with the barrels stencilled with their given names. It was interesting looking at all the different names. Those who have bought one of the first 1916 bottles of the Hearach will have a barrel stave carved with their names for posterity. The oak barrel staves will be on permanent displayed in the Ageing Warehouse.
Our tour guide was Sandra, a local girl with a gorgeous island accent and a passion for her job. Both were much in evidence as she gave us an insight into the ethos of the company and distillery methods . The tours are very popular so booking in advance is always advisable.
The Isle of Harris Distillery has a bright canteen cafe, serving a small selection of lunches, lovely afternoon cakes and hot and cold drinks where you can sit along side the distillery staff at the chunky timber tables and benches.
Free parking is available next to the distillery and a lift is available inside the building.
Find out more at the Isle of Harris Distillery.