Official opening of Harris distillery

The new Isle of Harris Distillery was officially opened in Tarbert last week, the culmination of a seven-year drive to establish the island’s first commercial whisky distillery.

Dubbed the Social Distillery, it is claimed the enterprise will ultimately create around 20 jobs and the opening offered the people of Harris the opportunity to tour the facility.

Three generations of Harris islanders put the first peats on the fire that will burn all the time at the distillery: Emma Passmore, John Murdo Morrison, Shona Macleod and Niel Macleod

The distillery was officially opened by a retired deputy Lord Lieutenant of the Western Isles, John Murdo Morrison. He was supported by the distillery’s guest team manager Shona Macleod and local school pupils Emma Passmore of Leverburgh Primary School and Niel Macleod of Sir E Scott School, each placing a peat on the fire in the distillery foyer to symbolise the warmth of Harris hospitality as well as playing an important part in the flavour of whisky.

Following a tour, there was a chance to sample the first produce from the distillery — a gin produced using sugar kelp harvested from around Harris — before the day was brought to a close with a ceilidh in the company’s warehouse.

While gin is being produced now, the main product of the distillery will be the single malt The Hearach but this will not be available for a number of years.

Anderson Bakewell, chairman and founder of the Isle of Harris Distillery, 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.”

Isle of Harris Distillery managing director Simon Erlanger, director Ron MacEachran, chairman Anderson Bakewell, former deputy Lord Lieutenant of the Western Isles John Murdo Morrison and distillery production manager Kenny Maclean in the new still room

The company has raised a total of £8.3 million in equity and £3.1 million from grants, attracting finance from 17 investors in Europe, the US and the Far East. In addition to an equity investment of £1.5 million from the Scottish Investment Bank — the investment arm of Scottish Enterprise — the project has been backed by £1.9 million in public funding from the Scottish Government’s Food Processing, Marketing and Co- operation scheme and £1.3 million from Highlands and Islands Enterprise