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Making Sense Of Place

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Blowing the cobwebs away with Dave Broom and Christina Kernohan.

In the short time we’ve been making spirits, we’ve been fortunate to meet many whisky experts along the way who have been good enough to impart their knowledge and share insights into this age-old craft.

One such soul, is a man called Dave Broom, a name which most lovers of a good dram will recognise from the wealth of words he’s written about our national drink.

Dave’s award-winning work has featured in publications like Whisky Magazine, Imbibe and The Spectator, as well as being the author of essential reading like The World Atlas Of Whisky and Whisky: The Manual.

The Spirit Hall, Isle of Harris Distillery.

Earlier this week we were delighted to welcome him to Harris for the first time, as he researched his latest writing endeavour, exploring the hard-to-define relationship between the land, its people and the spirits they make. He tells us...

"Sense of Place is a look at Scotch whisky’s relationship with land and community throughout history. We’re looking at the character, landscape, culture of different geographical (not ‘whisky’) regions, and how this is manifested in the glass. It’s about stories, craft, farming, song and language, and how whisky plays a central role in a community. Not terroir but bioregions. It’s what makes Scotch Scottish..."

So, it was on a very wet and windy Wednesday morning that he and photographer Christina Kernohan landed with a bump on our Outer Hebridean soil, flying into Stornoway before driving south to join us in Tarbert.

Meeting the weaver, Dave Broom and Donald John Mackay of Luskentyre.

Head distiller Kenny Maclean took our ever-affable visitors on an informal tour, talking about our distilling work and the social ethos which underpins everything we do, before a trip to the cask warehouse in nearby Ardhasaig to indulge in deep discussions about the wonders of wood and magic of maturation.

That evening in the intimate surroundings of the Harris Hotel bar, Kenny, Dave, and Christina were joined by managing director Simon Erlanger for a discrete nosing and tasting of our island spirit.

Samples had been especially drawn from our Bourbon, Oloroso, and Fino butts and barrels, as well as some of our more heavily-peated new-make, all poured and partaken to murmurs of quiet acclaim.

A wee island spirit sampling session at the Harris Hotel.

One of the few people entrusted to taste our whisky at this stage in our story, his thoughts and opinions were invaluable and it was reassuring to hear once again that our journey towards The Hearach single malt is progressing very positively.

With the scene now set from the distillery point of view, it was time to widen its perspective and embrace the community in which our whisky-making takes place, and from which we draw deep influence.

The next morning we headed south, along the western shores to the small village of Luskenytre which sits alongside huge swathes of sand and shallow green seas. Here was the home of Harris Tweed weaver Donald John Mackay, who warmly welcomed our masked party through his loom shed doors to tell us all about the intertwining of Outer Hebridean cloth and culture.

Just an everyday photoshoot on the crofts of Luskentyre.

Amidst wisps of wool and whiffs of lanolin and paraffin, Donald’s half-century story of weaving vividly explained how the strange combination of tradition, economy, and ancient craft have helped people survive and thrive here in the far north-west.

Then it was on to the village of Northton, with Christina and her camera being drawn away with the turn of every new corner, the beach of Seilebost and Scarista, Horgabost and Niseabost, proving untimely distractions to the day’s schedule.

We were off to meet local historian Bill Lawson at the Old Schoolhouse, his home and a repository for an incredible collection of books and documents collated over his many decades of genealogical research.

Interviewing at a safe social distance with Bill Lawson.

Surrounded by the unmistakable scent of leather bindings and printed paper, Dave and Bill sat at a safe social distance in the comfort of a pair of old, restored chairs, chatting about everything from the Eskimo of Taransay to the illicit distillers of Pabbay.

Later that evening, back at the Harris Hotel, they met with owner Andy and his father John Murdo Morrison, former Lord Lieutenant of the Western Isles.

It was yet another opportunity to get under the skin of Harris life and enjoy some good stories over another delicious dram or two.

Christina dips a toe or two in pursuit of a great photo.

Dave tells us, as he prepares to depart...

"I've had an amazing time. The distillery is beautiful - and the maturing spirit already impressive. The landscape spectacular. The hospitality has been wonderful and the pride in the distillery and what it means to the island is so clear. Hugely heartwarming!"

As Dave and Christina leave our shores today, we hope this flying visit has given a rare glimpse of the ties which bind this island, the history of its people, and their character, to the work we do here at the distillery. Each is irrevocably linked to the other, often in immeasurable and wonderfully elusive ways.


Dave Broom’s book A Sense Of Place will be published in 2021 by Mitchell Beazley, part of Octopus Books.

He has a new book, also featuring Isle of Harris Gin, due out next month.

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