The land upon which the Isle of Harris Distillery now sits once had a very different purpose.
At one time the seas of East Loch Tarbert were much closer to its neighbouring loch to the west. So close that Vikings could pull their ships across the land instead of sailing the longer route south.
In fact, this is where our village of Tarbert gets its name, Tairbeart, from the old Norse words meaning “draw boat”.
This narrow isthmus of land remained unchanged for centuries until a land reclamation project took place in 2003, filling in the rocky inner shores for commercial development.
Despite initial plans for a Harris Tweed Centre which never came to fruition, the land remained empty until the distillery got permission to build there, beginning in 2014.
One man involved in this land reclamation work was one of our very own Hearach distillers, Norman Ian Mackay.
Hailing from the west coast village of Luskentyre, Norman Ian has been distilling Isle of Harris Gin, mashing barley for our single malt whisky ‘The Hearach’, and working with casks for its maturation since 2017.
"I left Harris in 1996 after finishing school and went to study in Glasgow where I lived and worked for 15 years. In 2003 I returned home briefly and worked at the quarry which provided the bedrock for the site the distillery rests on today."
"…my real dream was always to return to Harris someday to raise a family in the same unspoiled surroundings I enjoyed as a child. Little did I know that 13 years later I would be working in Harris’ first legal distillery right there on that very spot."
Like all of our local team, Norman Ian had never made a drop of spirit before joining our group of home-grown distillers.
He explains a little about his working life…
"Being a distiller in our small distillery is different from larger places where you usually perform one role. Here we are lucky to share the many and varied tasks that are required to create our island spirit."
"One day I could be making Harris Gin, the next I could be working at the mash tun to fill our washbacks for the whisky spirit process. The complexities of the job mean that no day is the same as another."
And when he’s not making beautiful island spirits you can find Norman Ian walking the stunning sands of Luskentyre beach with his family.
"My wife Leona and I are lucky to have three boys under the age of six so life outside of work can be just as busy and varied!"
Now resettled back in his island home it seems his Harris dream has come true.
It’s a dream we hope will continue to become a reality for the many Hearaich wishing to return to their homelands as we continue to create sustainable employment for people like Norman Ian and the generations still to come.