Back to Journal

5 Years Aflame

Posted on

Three generations of Hearaich and the first flames...

Yesterday, Thursday 24th September 2020, the Harris Distillery reached another milestone, quietly marking five years on from the day we officially opened our doors and lit the fire in our hearth for the first time.

Surrounded by many of those who brought the dream of a local whisky distillery to life, three generations of Hearaich added a small, dark piece of peat to the growing flames, as we symbolically set out to build something with pride and purpose.

One of these three was Shona Macleod our Guest Services manager who recalls of the day…

“I was very proud to be the first to light the distillery fire. We gave it a wee test run beforehand, but all the smoke came billowing out and the fire alarms went off! Fortunately, it soon behaved and the smoke went up the chimney as it should…”

L to R: Simon Erlanger, Ron MacEachran, Burr Bakewell, Murdo Morrison, and Kenny Maclean. September 2015.

The first batch of Isle of Harris Gin, just 1,004 bottles.

Back in 2015, few who attended the huge warehouse cèilidh that evening, dancing the night away to the sounds of Skippinish and with our island spirit in full flow, could have foreseen what the next half-decade was to bring.

Our founder, Anderson ‘Burr' Bakewell writing in a personal letter to our staff said…

“It's not exaggerating to call it a 'Grand Opening’. This was a truly historic occasion, the largest gathering in the island's history, and marked the launch of a venture that in the intervening years has established itself as a hugely respected, serial award-winning enterprise.”

He continues…

“Its adherence to high principles of integrity and uncompromising quality of what it produces has inspired the loyal following of tens of thousands quite literally 'around the world’. Who would have thought just five years ago that a wee island off the coast of Scarp would be widely recognised from Mexico to Taiwan?!”

The opening warehouse cèilidh in full swing.

The biggest social gathering our island had ever seen.

Our chairman Ron MacEachran also found a few special words to say, telling us…

“This moment prompts pride in what has been created by our team, a new distillery in a wonderful location, brought to life by people imbued with the distinctive culture that belongs to Harris. The island way is not to overstate but it is appropriate from time to time to acknowledge achievement and reflect on learnings.”

Ron goes on to say…

“Reflection also prompts gratitude for the wonderful support given by the countless people who purchase our products, support our activities and communicate our story so enthusiastically. And as we reflect, we continue to look to the future as we strive to achieve our long term objectives – ensuring a successful, sustainable business, employing people across the generations, is embedded in the island."

From a busy building site...

...to a beautiful distillery in the heart of Harris.

Managing Director, Simon Erlanger who has steered our ship through waters both calm and chaotic over this time was also in a reflective mood. In these strange times of COVID and talk of second waves, he told us…

“Our anniversary passed almost un-noticed yesterday, other than a heartfelt thank you to the team from our Founder and the Board and some ‘air’ handshakes, between those of us who were working on site. Our plans for even the most limited of celebrations were abandoned to comply with the latest guidelines. A sense of sadness, countered by gratitude knowing that all are safe and well and that we are confident that there is a bright future to look forward to.”

He continues…

“What the team have achieved in the last 5 years has exceeded our wildest dreams. We’ve created a destination for spirit lovers, we’ve welcomed nearly 400,000 people through our doors, we’re selling our gin in 20 countries across the globe and we’ve increased our capacity to make more single malt for future generations. We’ve even been named Scotland’s favourite gin 3 years in a row. But most importantly, we’re providing sustainable employment for over 30 intensely proud local people.”

The distillery team in January 2020.

There's a fire that never goes out.

The world has changed so much since the day we first lit our peat fire. Indeed, to comply with advice and regulations we’re sad to say the distillery hearth no longer blazes in the heart of our spirit-making home.

But as Burr rightly reminded us recently, the real fire has not gone out. Like the glowing embers which saw previous generations through the cold, dark blackhouse nights each of us holds a warmth and special spark, ready to rekindle the flames when the dawn comes once more.

On behalf of the whole team here in Tarbert, we thank you for your endless support and enthusiasm for our island and the work we do here. We look forward to spending many more years with you, and always in the best of Outer Hebridean spirits as we keep our shared ambitions aflame.