Having covered the Isle of Harris Distillery story for more than a decade now, it was particularly interesting to catch up in recent days with those leading the business into “a new era”.

It would, for the avoidance of doubt, have been fascinating to hear from Isle of Harris Distillers chairman and chief financial officer Ron MacEachran and managing director Simon Erlanger in any case. The pair have a compelling story to tell, as they prepare to launch The Hearach single malt Scotch whisky. The distillery at Tarbert on Harris also expects to bottle its millionth bottle of the award-winning Isle of Harris gin next month.

However, it was particularly interesting to hear again first-hand about the distillery’s progress after covering the story all the way from the early stages of a very ambitious multi-million-pound fundraising drive to enable the dream of producing Scotch whisky on Harris to become a reality.

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The Isle of Harris Distillers story has, of course, always been about much more than producing a new premium single malt, not to underplay in any way the importance of this.

It has, crucially, been in large measure about providing sustainable employment in what, by virtue of geography and remoteness, is a fragile island community.

Of course, it is this remoteness which makes Harris and the distillery at Tarbert such exciting places to visit.

Employment in such remote communities has for decades been hard to come by, to say the least.

Depopulation has, for good reason, been very much in focus, and is a vitally important issue.

My days visiting remote and island communities with great regularity early in my journalism career brought with them an appreciation of the particular challenges facing such places.

These challenges are often more difficult to appreciate than the beguiling scenery, and peace and quiet, and will probably often escape many tourists, especially in good weather. That is not to say tourists should spend their time dwelling on such challenges, and their visits provide much-needed revenue to remote and island communities in Scotland.

One crucial point is that a certain number of jobs that might seem paltry in a city or even some towns is a very big deal indeed in a remote island community.

Employment of local people has always been a key aspect of the Isle of Harris Distillery project.

If young people who wish to remain on their home island can be provided with opportunities which make it more attractive for them to stay rather than leave, that is a valuable thing indeed.

Isle of Harris Distillers now employs 45 people.

Mr Erlanger noted this was double what it had said it would deliver. And the original plan looked impressive enough.

Community benefit remains very much at the forefront of the minds of Mr MacEachran and Mr Erlanger, it is clear from our conversation.

It has been heartening to see the public and private sectors coming together, and getting firmly behind the project. Scottish Enterprise has over the years at times been a political football but sometimes people lose sight of the valuable role the taxpayer-funded economic development agency plays in enabling enterprises such as Isle of Harris Distillery to come into being.

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Mr MacEachran says of the community impact of the project: “We had about £3 million of grants at the outset. They were predicated on economic impact, which I think it is fair to say we have more than achieved.”

Mr Erlanger flagged his belief that Isle of Harris Distillers will be the biggest employer on the island, in terms of permanent staff.

The distillery has meanwhile also proved a magnet for visitors. It is likely to continue to do so, with Mr Erlanger noting stories of people having booked camper vans on to ferries for the launch of The Hearach.

He flagged original estimates that the distillery would attract 40,000 to 45,000 visitors a year. In 2019, before the world was shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic, Isle of Harris Distillery recorded its peak number of visitors, 100,000.

Another thing which comes through from the conversation with Isle of Harris Distillers’ top brass is excitement about the impending launch of The Hearach.

As with all new premium single malts, The Hearach has been a while in the making.

Mr MacEachran and Mr Erlanger talk about weekly tasting sessions, and the input of “three wise men”, experts who provide advice on whether anything needs tweaked in the production process.

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We discuss the use of bourbon, oloroso and fino casks for maturation.

During a visit to the distillery in September 2017, my discussion with Mr Erlanger included talk of how good the climate on Harris is for whisky maturation, given the humidity.

When spirit was first poured into barrels for The Hearach in December 2015, and then optimised through the first quarter of the following year, no one would have conceived of the world being turned upside down by a global pandemic.

Isle of Harris Distillers plugged away through this period, continuing to produce its award-winning gin.

This gin has provided very valuable cash flow while everyone at the distillery has waited for The Hearach to be ready.

Now, as Mr MacEachran observes, the business is poised to double in size in short order with the launch of The Hearach.

The whisky will go on sale on September 23, following an official launch the previous day. The millionth bottle of gin milestone is expected to be reached about a week before that.

Mr MacEachran told The Herald: “Whisky moves us to a different scale – more or less doubles the size of the business within eight weeks.”

He projected annual turnover would rise from between £3.5m and £4m to the £7.5m to £8m range with the launch of The Hearach, and underlined the importance of exports to growth ambitions.

Mr Erlanger talked about Isle of Harris Distillers entering a “new era”, and about it being “the end of the beginning”.

Amid what often seems like unrelenting UK economic gloom, the distillery at Tarbert is definitely among the bright spots.

What has been created there has been long in the making.

And hopefully the distillery, and the community benefit it brings, will prove most enduring.