A Chat With Annabel Meikle

With more and more spirit for our historic single malt being committed to wood each week, we're becoming excited about the arrival of 'The Hearach', the first true Isle of Harris whisky.

So this week, with the magic of drams on our mind, we thought we'd catch with Annabel Meikle, director of the Keepers of the Quaich, for a wee interview about her contribution to our distillery story.

Here's part one of our chat...​


Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are, where you are from, what you have done and what you do today?

I was born in Edinburgh and trained at art college studying textiles and ceramics. I have worked in the whisky industry since 2001, organising events and tastings with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. In 2007 I was appointed as the global brand ambassador for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg and in 2010 I returned to mange the Vaults venue - where I started. In 2013, I established my own consultancy, The Whisky Belle and I have been in the role of Director of the Keepers of the Quaich since May 2015. The Keepers of the Quaich recognises the outstanding contribution to those who work in the industry. 

When did you first hear about the Harris Distillery and how did you come to be involved in the project?

Funnily enough it was at the Vaults when I was managing the venue in 2011.The distillery had been in touch to see if we could provide a discreet location for the board to look at the first designs and discuss the project. We used to serve delicious home-made cookies at coffee time and while I was replenishing the refreshments I did take a wee peep at the designs! I must confess I was totally captivated - it was such an original project. It seemed such a distant location but this only added to the charm and magic of the project. 

You were responsible for the creation of the Flavour Abacus and other aspects of the guest experience here in Tarbert. Can you tell us about your thinking behind abacus and how it went from concept to reality? 

This was a very special project for me to work on. It brought all my worlds together - my artistic and creative background meeting whisky. Funnily enough - I drew a blank when I first discussed this with the distillery - but they introduced me to a beautiful book by Ian Lawson called ‘From the land comes the cloth.’ Ian had spent years taking stunning images on Harris and related them to the unique cloth from this isle. I became a bit obsessed by this book, which was out of print, and after one Sunday lunch my father presented me with a copy. I sat down that night with a dram in my hand, and leafed through the book and that’s where the idea came from. Alison (Mackinnon, for many years consultant to the project) was really keen to create a tour at the distillery that explained to visitors where the complex flavours were created. 

Can you give us a little insight into how simple things like the abacus helps guests understand whisky better and are you pleased with the final result. What other areas were you involved in?

I think it was just looking at the way we explained the process in a completely different way. Whisky is a romantic and beautiful spirit and we wanted to translate this - and not merely in words and numbers. Rather than describe this with words - we thought that a visual tool would help to describe this, and demonstrate how adjusting small factors throughout the process would alter the flavours. Wool plays such an integral part of the life of the island that it seemed natural to use it. The texture was beautifully showcased by the other materials used in the tasting room. I also helped to develop some of the language used during the tour to set it apart from other tours. It was an enormous privilege to work with the Tarbet 10 - they are wonderful! 

Right now many of our customers are very focussed on our Isle of Harris Gin. What are your thoughts on our first spirit?

Well - I am a little biased but it is one of my favourites out on the market. I’m used to tasting spirit with complexity of flavour and the sea kelp gives such a distinctive tang. It really roots the spirit to the island, and the landscape. The bottle and the labels all add to enhance the attention to details that the team have put into making this the success it is. It is so important that the distillery feels vibrant and the success of the gin has really contributed to this. 


Join us again next week for part two!

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