The Isle of Harris Distillery has walked away with yet another prestigious award.

A local distillery has taken a prestigious gold win in the taste category for London Dry Gin, at the World Gin Awards 2021.

By John A. MacInnes
Sunday, 7th March 2021, 12:46 pm
The Isle of Harris Distillery
The Isle of Harris Distillery

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you won’t have escaped the seemingly unstoppable rise of Scottish gin.

One brand that seems to encapsulate the ethos of championing not just local produce but a sense of community is the Isle of Harris Gin, in that very distinctive blue bottle, used, when empty, for a variety of different purposes, including many restaurants for serving table water as evidenced by our own editor on more than one occasion.

The Isle of Harris Distillery, or the Social Distillery as it is often referred to, was opened in October 2015, in the small harbor village of Tarbert, the vision of Anderson ‘Burr’ Bakewell, a man who has been connected to the island for many years.

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It's a heady mix of botanicals and sea kelp

He wanted to create something that would provide employment for generations to come by sharing this special place with the world.

It is both a place and an idea for bringing people together, to share the special spirit of Harris and create a sense of belonging wherever you are from.

The Isle of Harris Distillery’s main purpose is to create jobs, support the fragile local economy and address issues surrounding population decline in the Outer Hebrides.

Five local distillers and two young apprentice distillers, trained from scratch in their craft, make a single malt whisky and an Outer Hebridean gin. A team of over 30 full-time staff help create the beautiful spirits and welcome visitors from all over the world. The distillery now provides secure employment and gives people a reason to remain in Harris to live and work.

The award-winning Isle of Harris Gin is the distillery’s inaugural spirit, distilled in Tarbert in a small copper gin still, known as ‘The Dottach’. Juniper, Coriander, Angelica Root, Orris Root, Cubebs, Bitter Orange Peel, Liquorice and Cassia Bark all play their role in defining the taste of the gin, but it is Sugar kelp that marks out this spirit.

Sustainably harvested by a local diver from around the seas of the Outer Hebrides, the Sugar kelp creates subtle coastal notes. The distillers discard, instead of recycling, the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ of the spirit run, leaving only the best of the distillate’s ‘heart’ helping to create an exceptional smoothness.

The Isle of Harris Distillery is first and foremost a whisky distillery, busy creating a beautiful spirit for an Isle of Harris dram. The historic single malt whisky will be called ‘The Hearach’, the Scottish Gaelic word for someone from Harris.

This will be the first legal whisky to be made in the Isle of Harris, maturing in ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso casks at the shore-side warehouse in the nearby village of Ardhasaig. The whisky will be a malt of distinction: lightly peated, complex, full of character and with great balance. The distillers are also making spirit for a more heavily peated expression of the whisky, using locally cut peat. The Hearach will only be released once it has become its best, a whisky that the community will be truly proud of. Unlike most island distilleries, every drop of spirit is distilled, matured and bottled on Harris ensuring true island provenance.

And now the distillery has added an extra award to the ever-growing list they accumulate on a regular basis.

The best and brightest in the world of gin have been commended in the Gin Magazine Awards 2021, with entries from across the globe tasted by an expert judging panel to decide the World’s Best.

Bethany Whymark, editor of Gin Magazine, said: “Now is a wonderful time to be working in the world of gin, and we are proud to be able to celebrate the industry’s best through our awards – which were presented in a virtual format for the first time ever.”

“We were delighted to learn that Isle of Harris Gin won Gold at the World Gin Awards 2021 in the London Dry Gin taste category. It helped put a real spring in our step and reminded us that, after a challenging year for us all, good things can still happen, however small they may seem in the grand scheme of things. So, it felt like a good time to accentuate the positive and look forward to what the rest of 2021 may bring. It’s also a real testament to the skills of our distillers that even in difficult times they can produce an award winning spirit” said Mike Donald, Isle of Harris Distillery storyteller.

And such has the success of the business that they’re now looking to expand. A planning application for a new bottling and logistics centre in addition to a maturation warehouse in Urgha, Isle of Harris, has been submitted to the local council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar by the Isle of Harris Distillery (IHD).

The Harris Distillery team rose to the challenge that coronavirus presented on the Western Isles as they teamed up with another local island supplier to help produce bottles of high-quality hand sanitiser which required alcohol as a key ingredient.