“From the whisky well a shining beacon of light welcomes you to Tarbert,” said John Murdo Morrison who perhaps sums up best the feelings of delight, pride and hope after the official opening of the Isle of Harris Distillery.
Mr Morrison, a prominent Harris businessman and long time friend of the new distillery’s chairmn Mr Anderson Bakewell was speaking at the opening as the new £10m distillery opened its doors for the first time last week.
The new distillery has already churned out a first batch of Isle of Harris gin which is already on sale while work on the first ever Hearach single malt whisky began this week.
Twelve jobs have been created for local residents in Harris but Mr Bakewell hopes this can be increased to 20 in time.
I’m feeling wonderful but a little overwhelmed,” smiled Mr Bakewell inside the stunning purpose built Isle of Harris Distillery.
“We couldn’t have done this without the support of Harris and the people of the whole island.
“The distillery can be a showcase for Harris around the world. It is a ground of hope here on the shores of East Loch Tarbert.
“Most distilleries in Scotland began in the Victorian-era and are still here all these years later so we expect the Isle of Harris Distillery to be here for just as long.
The traditional ribbon cutting ceremony of new projects was replaced by a distillery and island appropriate peat burning ceremony in front of a packed crowd of well wishers, invited guests, supporters and local residents.
John Murdo Morrison, who has been friends with Anderson - who he knows as Burr, for half a century - gave a heartfelt speech at the official opening of what he describes as ‘a milestone in Harris history.’
“This is an iconic building in an inconic place,” beamed Morrison.
“Burr’s connection to Harris goes back almost 50 years and we are lucky he came here as a young man and fell in love with the place. Now he has secured himself a very special place in the fabric of Harris and in the hearts and minds of the people who live and work here.
“In Harris, many projects, and proposed developments, have divided opinion amongst the people. But having lived here most of my life I’ve seen my fair share of conflicts in this community and truth be told I’ve caused most of them myself.
“This project which is probably the largest private investment project in Harris has seen nothing but full support from most.
“From day one everyone has been delighted to welcome the Isle of Harris Distillery into the heart of the community.”
Two of the stills in the distillery have been named with the gin still adopting the moniker of a popular Hearach woman who was known as The Dotach. Named in memory of one of Burr Bakewell’s dear Harris friends who was originally from Scarp.
An extensive tour, sampling of the first batch of gin, and some local food products were provided for guests during the opening before the evening ended with a ceilidh in the distillery warehouse.
The Isle of Harris Distillery is at the forefront of an exciting future for Harris and the wider isles who hope the Hearach dram can help bring more exposure to the region.
Something Mr Morrison is convinced will happen.
“The building here is like a fine Harris lady,” joked Morrison. “It radiates beauty from every angle.
“As people now enter the port of Tarbert they will be greeted by this majestic vision. At night time this experience will be heightened by the beautiful glass frame that towers skywards - literally a light house.
“But instead of warning of danger it emits an illimunating aura welcoming all.
“From the whisky well a shining beacon of light welcomes you to Tarbert.”