A new malt is born in Harris

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The Isle of Harris distillery – Scotland’s newest whisky distillery – is bringing in the New Year by celebrating the filling of its first casks with Scotland’s newest single malt.

The first production of The Hearach single malt flowed from the distillery’s copper stills just before Christmas and the 561 litres produced have now been filled into casks 1, 2 and 3 of what is sure to become a very long line.

The Isle of Harris distillery based in Tarbert only opened its doors on September 24 and since when the team has been working hard to prepare its first whisky production.

Just eight years and two weeks after he founded Isle of Harris Distillers Ltd, Anderson ‘Burr’ Bakewell, Chairman and Founder, turned up the steam to the stills and the first raw spirit was born.

Now that ‘new make spirit’ has been filled into the first casks, they will lie in the distillery’s warehouse for years of quiet maturation, in what is a hugely significant milestone for the company.

“We opened the distillery in late September with what was really a family affair for the whole of the people of Harris including the biggest ceilidh the island has ever seen and now we have even more to celebrate with the production of our first spirit,” said Simon Erlanger, Managing Director.

After a well-earned rest over the festive period, production manager Kenny Maclean and the distillery team – known locally as the Tarbert Ten – will work to adjust their methods to ensure the ‘new make spirit’ has the character the Company is looking for.

This period of ‘spirit optimisation’ will continue until the distillery’s Nosing Panel, half of whom are local volunteers, is satisfied that the ‘new make’ has the potential to turn into a great malt.

Then, the distillery team will fill the first run of 200 casks which have already been bought by private individuals, each one with a story to tell, each owner connected in a special way to the Isle of Harris.

Many of those first 200 casks have been purchased by islanders and will be part of the island’s own story.

This first batch of The Hearach will now sleep in its BuffaloTrace bourbon barrels through many years, permeated by the elemental Harris climate, to develop into what it is anticipated will be a fine malt of character and distinction. But what The Hearach’s final character will ultimately be is in the hands of the gods – the extraordinary reality of creating a new whisky is that no one can absolutely say what it will be like until the period of maturation is over.

There may be some hints, though. Anderson Bakewell was the first to ‘nose’ the new whisky as it emerged from the still.

And his verdict?

“Rather good! Both fruity and floral, peardrops and gentle peat smoke, sweet and a little oily.”

Pictured are distillery workers (left to right) Domhnall Macleod, Billy Fraser and Donnie Macleod with the first three casks.