17 industry awards (with six more pending) , demand for their gin triggering the first recorded ‘gin drought’ and an influx of visitors, there’s plenty for Isle of Harris Distillers to celebrate as they approach their second anniversary.
Significantly though, what matters most to the people at the social distillery, is the positive impact on their island community.
“We’re different”, says MD Simon Erlanger, “we are the first distillery created with the prime focus of helping regenerate the local economy and stemming the half century of population decline. So the number we are most proud of is the 30 local people we now employ.
“The distillery has exceeded all our expectations during its first 24 months and this anniversary gives us a reason to reflect on a number of successes and firsts.”
The Isle of Harris Distillery is the first (legal) distillery on Harris, the first to use the local sugar kelp as the central botanical in its gin (2 tonnes have been harvested to-date by the distillery’s diver Lewis Mackenzie).
It is the first distillery to only sell its spirits directly to its customers from its premises and online shop and the first to introduce a Click & Collect service through its network of 40 ‘depositories’.
The distillery’s peat fire has burnt for 690 days, welcoming 144,000 guests through its doors. Every one of them was made to feel warmly welcome, not least HRH Prince Charles, Lord of the Isles.
From the outset, the distillery has established itself at the heart of the community and some of the 400 batches of gin distilled have refreshed the ten ceilidhs hosted within its walls. Sixteen locals make up the distillery’s Nosing Panel, guardians of the quality of its spirits. There have even been two distillery babies born, as team members do their bit for population regeneration.
In an initiative with local crofters, 200 cattle have been fed for free on 400 tonnes of spent barley from distillation.
Looking forward to the next two years the distillery plans to remain focused.
“The demand for our gin seems to keep growing”, says Simon, “so we need to gear up for making more, as we introduce it to more international markets as well as at home.
“However, we always remember that we are first and foremost a whisky distillery so our number one priority is to keep laying down casks of our new spirit, though it will be a while before it is ready to be bottled as The Hearach single malt”.