Domhnall The Distiller

From the outset of the Isle of Harris Distillery project, we have strived to create valuable jobs and bring new skills and opportunities to our island community. 

Some of the roles we’re most proud of creating have come from the training of five local men who had never distilled a drop of spirit in their lives. Drawn from many and varied backgrounds, from former joiners to engineers, they have become our island’s first ever, legal, distillers. 

If you’ve ever joined us for a tour you may have  been lucky enough to meet some of them already. Or, perhaps you've seen them on the documentary ‘Druthag na Hearadh/A drop of Harris’ which aired on BBC Alba. 

If so, you’ll no doubt remember the familiar face and cheeky demeanour of the ever characterful Domhnall Macleod. 

We were long overdue to share his story here in our Journal so we finally managed to steal some time, and some laughs, with him away from the stills earlier this week.

As with all of our original Tarbert Ten team, the founding group of Harris folk who made up our staff back in 2015, Domhnall had no background in the whisky industry at all. 

Born in the village of Scadabay on the east coast of Harris, apart from a year working away in Oban, he’d rarely strayed far from the island he calls home, spending most of his working life as a builder.

But the vagaries of the local housing industry, and working year round in our less than favourable island climate, meant that when the opportunity rose to retrain in the art of distilling, he was quick to choose a change in career. 

With the help of our industry experts and many long days learning the art of distilling, he now helps create both our Isle of Harris Gin and the new-make whisky spirit which flows from our bright, copper stills. 

A typical working day for him can involve any part of the process and every day is different for Domhnall, as he tell us…

"When you begin your morning mashing, you’ll usually kept busy in the Spirit Hall for the rest of the day. Other days there are Isle of Harris Gin bottles to be filled and labelled, or maybe it’s time for casks to be transferred from the distillery here in Tarbert to the off-site warehouse in Ardhasaig.”


He tells us his favourite place to be is in the Tarbert warehouse, taking care of the casks and turning a steady hand to the task of painting our distillery branding onto each of our private barrels, along with the owner’s chosen name, the year of filling and the cask number. 

Reminiscing on our visit from Prince Charles in 2016 where he marked the royal cask as ‘Lord Of The Isles’, he tells us… 

“Maybe Charles will decide to call in again and should he buy another cask then I’ll paint his name on it for him too!”

It’s clear to us that island life and island traditions are very important to Domhnall and he’s proud of the work he’s doing, setting the foundations for many more generations of Harris distillers.

“Home is where we’re from. It has that ancestral connection, there’s no place quite like it.”

We’re delighted to have Domhnall on the team, he always has a good joke to share or tall tale to tell, and even on the busiest days, he'll keep us in the best of spirits.

Thanks to Shona Maclennan our Social Media and Storytelling assistant for her work on this week's Journal!

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