While the much loved Isle of Harris Gin has defined our story to date, we are at heart a whisky distillery.
Our focus is very much on the creation of a historic single malt, to be called ‘The Hearach’, the Gaelic word for a person hailing from Harris.
Each week we are busy mashing malted barley, fermenting wort and distilling spirit to fill the carefully chosen oak casks which reside in our warehouse by the Atlantic shores of Ardhasaig.
This week brought another of those rare whisky-making milestones in the journey from grain to glass, as we undertook the first formal sampling of our stocks, led by our friend and favourite flavour guru Gordon Steele.
A former director of the Scotch Whisky Institute, he’s also a Keeper of the Quaich, Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Distillers, and a Fellow of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.
Assisted by head distiller Kenny Maclean, our collective goal was to get a representative sample of our maturing whisky to assess just how well the spirit was progressing, and begin to explore what the final flavour profile of ‘The Hearach' might be.
It’s a tough job sometimes…
We chose a wide selection of casks from our warehouse. The oldest samples were selected from our first distillations back in 2016, while the youngest was just 18 months old, halfway to becoming legal Scotch.
Choices were further divided by wood type and warehouse location before the casks were rolled to mix their contents, and the bungs removed to withdraw some of the liquid within.
Then the tasting could begin! As Gordon explains…
“The process was to examine every individual cask sample for flavour profile, estimating its intensity and complexity. Each cask type was then mixed together, thus the sherry butts of a similar age were mixed as were the bourbon barrels, and these samples were further examined.”
“From these, the bourbon casks showing the best flavour profile were combined and likewise the best from the sherry wood casks. These were then mixed in various combinations of cask types and ages and further profiled to give an overall view of what we can achieve when making our final whisky.”
It has been a tremendously exciting time, as Gordon, Kenny and other key members of the team mined into this maturing stock. With no-one coming before us, we are both blessed and burdened with having no set expectation of just what a Harris whisky style should be.
The combination of freedom and responsibility certainly brought things into sharp focus but our goal to produce something which is truly of the island, and with a character which is unlike any other, appears to be one which is well within our grasp.
After his week of tastings, Gordon confirms this…
“To be able, at last, to show what has been achieved over the last few years has been a great joy. As to the whisky, what a surprise! Generally, the casks are all slightly more mature for their age than I was expecting. The complexity is very high, there's a lot going on with different flavours appearing and being replaced by others."
Although not yet ready to share with the world, as our whisky matures further we feel it can only get better.
Here in Harris life tends to pass at a different pace and we know that things are better done well than done rushed. So, we are in no rush to release and will wait until the right moment, when the whisky is at its best and worthy of bearing our island's name.
Exactly when that will be only time and taste will tell, but meantime here’s to the future and all the potential it holds.