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Isle of Harris opens first Scotch whisky distillery

The Isle of Harris Distillery has opened in the Outer Herbrides of Scotland, revealing plans to launch its first single malt Scotch whisky in around four years’ time.

The Isle of Harris Distillery is only the second distillery to be built in the Outer Hebrides

Dubbed The Social Distillery, it is the first commercial distillery to be built of the Isle of Harris and is only the second distillery in the Outer Hebrides. The result of a seven-year project, the Tarbet-based site will provide 20 local jobs.

Touted as having the potential to “open up an entirely new whisky region for Scotland”, the distillery has been founded by musicologist Anderson Bakewell, while former Marks & Spencer and Diageo chairman Simon Erlanger has stepped in as managing director.

Ron MacEachran, former chief financial officer for Whyte & Mackay, has also been appointed director.

“It is on this special island that conditions prevail for the production and maturation of a unique and exceedingly fine malt whisky,” Bakewell, who is also chairman of the company.

“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.”

Single malt plans

Annually, The Isle of Harris Distillery will produce 300,000 bottles of its single malt Scotch whisky, called The Hearach, which is the Gaelic name for an inhabitant of Harris.

The first batch of The Hearach is expected to be released in four years’ time and will be limited to 1,916 bottles – the same as the number of Harris residents. Those who pre-order the first batch will receive a lifetime of free distillery tours and their name inscribed on a wall of wooden staves in the distillery warehouse.

The distillery claims that cool, humid and temperate weather of the island will have a “unique effect” on its whisky, which will feature “more complex” flavours from the wood of the barrels.

A limited number of casks from the first year’s production have been made available for sale, but the first year’s allocation has already sold out.

The company will also produce a gin made using sugar kelp harvested from the seas surrounding the island, which will be exclusively available from the distillery.

Attracting finance from 17 investors in Europe, the US and the Far East, the distillery raised a total of £8.3m in equity and £3.1m from grants.

In addition to an equity investment of £1.5m from the Scottish Investment Bank, the project has been backed by £1.9m in public funding from the Scottish Government’s Food Processing, Marketing and Co- operation scheme and £1.3m from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

Isle of Harris Distillery marked its opening with an official ceremony today (Thursday 24 September).

Despite export declines, a number of Scotch whisky distilleries are set to open in the coming years, as this roundup shows.

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