They say life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, a phrase that seems to have been tailor-made for the Isle of Harris Distillery. The spirit producer – named after the small, Scottish community of less than 2,000 people in the Outer Hebrides where it stands – wasn’t looking to make an award-winning gin, but that’s exactly what happened when its doors opened back in 2015.
The area might be better known for the Harris Tweed that has been hand-woven by islanders in the iconic herringbone pattern for generations. However, dismayed by a long term decline in the local population, Anderson ‘Burr’ Bakewell set out to create an enterprise to employ locals and encourage younger people to stay, by making an equally traditional Scottish product – single malt whisky.
While the Isle of Harris Distillery, known as ‘the Social Distillery,’ patiently waits for the whisky to mature, their gin has become a spirit success story. (Recognize that award-winning bottle?)
Every single drop of Isle of Harris Gin is made in Tarbert, a ruggedly beautiful village in the Western Isles of Scotland, built on three-billion-year-old rock. A small copper gin still, nicknamed 'the Dottach' after a similarly small and feisty local woman, sits in the distillery's Spirit Hall, next to its whisky-making brethren.
While nine botanicals in total head into the still, it’s the sugar kelp, hand-harvested by a local diver from the seas around the Outer Hebrides, that provides the complex, maritime essence of this extraordinarily special spirit.
The magical seaweed – gold-green fronds, sustainably foraged from underwater forests in springtime – gives the spirit a savoury-sweet flavour that’s just as at home in a classic G&T as it is in a dry martini.
The juniper-forward gin is softened by fresh, low-mineral water from the Abhainn Cnoc a ’Charrain stream for a well-balanced taste every bit as special as the Isle of Harris itself.
From 10 people – and one giant ceilidh – to almost 40 permanent staff, the distillery is creating positive change, supporting the Hearaich (people of Harris) and sharing the elusive spirit of this island with gin drinkers all over the world. One sip and you'll see why.
To find out more, head to harrisdistillery.com