Isle of Harris Distillery

Tarbert, Isle of Harris

History: In 1960, an American gentlemen named Anderson Bakewell visited Harris and instantly fell in love with the island and its people. Over the next 50 years Anderson established himself as a renowned musicologist (an expert in music) before having his vision of opening a distillery on Harris, which he started to plan back in 2007. This was not about making whisky and gin for him, it was about bringing jobs and tourism to the island. Along with some funding and a group of investors they managed to raise £10 million to make the vision a reality. Building started on the head of the harbour in East Loch Tarbert, visible to everyone arriving there by land or sea and in September 2015 the first distillery in Harris was opened.

The product: Whisky doesn't take a long time to make but it does take a long time to age. While they are waiting for their whisky to age they decided to create Isle of Harris Gin. The botanicals are what give gin its flavour and aroma. Harris’s are made up of some classic botanicals but sugar kelp – which is hand-harvested by a local diver from the deep underwater forests of the Outer Hebrides – is their key botanical.

Geek alert: Everyone I speak to about the gin is mad about the Isle of Harris gin bottle and I can understand why … it is beautiful. The demand saw the distillery actually run out of bottles last year, resulting in “the great Harris gin drought of 2016”. This saw the company ask customers to send back their bottles to be refilled and sent back to them. The bottled was designed by Stranger & Stranger, a design agency who have designed some of the spirit world's most iconic bottles. It has since won three important design awards. The Drinks Business: Best Design in Packaging and Spirits Award, The Dieline Awards 2016 where the design took first place in spirits and The International Spirits Challenge where the Isle of Harris Gin bottle won Design & Packaging New Individual Product and was crowned Design and Packaging Supreme Champion for 2016.

Why visit? This is a rugged yet stunning part of Scotland. There are only around 2000 people living on the island and the distillery employs about 20 people. Isle of Harris calls itself a "social distillery", with everything possible, including bottling and maturation, done on the island to maximise employment and of course bring tourists to the island. Yes, it is a long way to come but if ever there was a good reason to come and visit a distillery then this is the one. Winter 2017 Tours are available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10am and 12pm with more days added in the summer months. The canteen and shop are open every day except Sunday.

Interesting fact: Mr Bakewell admittedly doesn't know a lot about gin or whisky so he made sure that he gathered a team with experience and knowledge so that the products would be world-class and something for the island to be proud of. The board consists of industry legends such as ex-Glenmorangie director Simon Erlanger, former Whyte & Mackay CFO Ron MacEachran, and former Macallan managing director, Willie Phillips.

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