Harris tipple goes down a real treat in Budapest

It wasn’t my main reason for being in Budapest last week – but when I came across intimation of a Whisky Show, complete with the Budapest Highlanders Pipe Band, it seemed like an essential bonus.

Thursday, 11th November 2021, 12:19 pm
Peter Kwasniewski attracted a lot of attention at the well-attended event

The event proved to be a sell-out with 3000 people, consumers and trade, turning up over two days to taste whiskies which included many from less known, more recent distilleries in Scotland and Ireland that find a way into small country markets through shows like this.

A few wares having been dutifully sampled, the Isle of Harris Distillery stand came in view with the company’s international business development manager, Peter Kwasniewski, attracting a lot of attention and approval for what he had to offer.

Mainly, it was a showcase for Harris Gin but there was also a “first” for the Tarbert distillery with small tastes of “new make spirit” being offered to whisky aficionados. This was the first time it had been taken out of Harris to such an event.

New make spirit is the clear liquid that runs off the still at about 68 degrees alcohol by volume. It is not for the faint-hearted but to those who know their whisky (I am assured) it is a faithful guide to the quality of the single malt that will eventually emerge after years in a cask.

“It was a milestone for us,” said Peter this week, “and the response could not have been better. The feedback from so many whisky lovers was phenomenal. The second day was even busier with more professionals and their comments were just as encouraging”.

It was the first foreign show at which the Harris distillery was represented since February last year. “The last time I travelled for shows like this was to Sweden and Denmark,” said Peter, “and when we got back to the UK, we were wondering why people were wearing masks”.

Harris Gin currently sells into 25 countries. “We are going to do more and more visiting markets in person, just like we did in Budapest,” he said, “but we can’t be everywhere”.

Peter is originally from Poland. He moved to Harris in 2014, started with the distillery the following year, and lives in Drinishader. Before entering the world of gin and whisky, he made bespoke furniture in Surrey.

Even if new make spirit is tickling a select few palates around Europe, the distillery is in no hurry to create the first release of Isle of Harris Whisky. “The truth is we don’t know – except that the answer is ‘when it’s ready’,” says Peter. “We will not release anything that does not represent the distillery and the island well”.

Meanwhile, events like the Budapest Whisky Show will make the Isle of Harris brand better known around Europe, paving a way for the whisky that finally emerges to become at least as big a success as the gin.

The scale of the event was a reminder of just how much global interest there is in whisky and a reassuring indicator that size is not all that counts in export markets. There are other ways for the little guys, as well as the multinational giants, to make their presence felt.

As for Budapest Highlanders Pipe Band, their mission for the past decade has been “to represent the classical pipe band music in Hungary at any event where it is appropriate whilst teaching as many local young pipers and drummers as we can”.