First Steps In The Spirit Hall

2016 marked the first year of making spirit for our historic dram ‘The Hearach' Single Malt, the first (legal!) whisky to be made here in the Isle of Harris. Using nothing but the softest local water, malted barley and yeast, our two copper stills have been transforming these simplest of natural ingredients into something very special.
 
Responsibility for this transformation lies in the hands of our five distillers, drawn from our surrounding community and learning the art of whisky-making as we grow. While it would have been easy to bring in talent from further afield we wanted to create real local jobs and build skills which could be passed down through generations of islanders as the years go by.
 
In charge of this small team of Hearachs is Kenny Maclean from the village of Strond in South Harris. A deeply practical man, with an ability to turn his hand to any technical challenge, Kenny has led the distilling team during this important inaugural stage of our journey. Like all of us, he’s ‘Always Learning’ so we caught up with him to get his thoughts on how the first year of distilling life has gone, in what we like to call our ‘croft’ distillery.
 
 

“The first year has been a real steep learning curve for everyone, there were so many new skills to master in terms of technically delivering all the tasks safely and to a high quality. We achieved this and it is nice to see the team able to exercise real judgement about their work and enjoying the craft element of what we do.”  ​
 

He goes on…
 
“The distillers have all impressed me with how they have absorbed everything there was to learn. In 2016 everyone rotated their roles, from mashing and distilling to bottling and warehousing. We can now see individuals who have an interest and excel in certain areas, so we will look to add a bit more specialisation to the roles this year.”
 
It seems that leading the team and overseeing the making of our first spirits has been an enjoyable and satisfying experience for Kenny on a personal level too.​

 

“The success of the Isle of Harris Gin and the quality of the new make spirit have been two real high points for me. I feel immensely proud, not for myself, but for the team who make it so consistently, the consultants who developed the recipe and process, and the company directors who have been working on this for such a long time."

Kenny continues... 
 
“Their vision and guidance have taken us here, and we have a responsibility to them and to the people of Harris to deliver a spirit which they will be proud of. It's early days yet but I think our new make spirit is exceptional,  it brings a genuine smile to my face every time I nose it so I’m confident we will have something that is worthy of bearing the Isle of Harris name.”
 
Kenny and the distillers are now distilling 2400 litres of new make whisky spirit every week and steadily filling more and more casks with each passing day. He tells us…
 
 

“I love working with the casks, and learning about the different aromas and flavours that are being developed. I have tried to learn more about the sherry and bourbon process so that I am more aware of the cask provenance which is so important.”

And the spirit within? ​

“I’m hugely excited about it. Our new make spirit is complex and has character. We have invested in some of the best wood available and so look forward to something very special in a few years time. Words cannot describe the excitement I feel. Whenever we nose the spirit it just brings forward this uncontrollable smile.”
 

We are just as excited as Kenny as we enter our second year of life here in the heart of our island. We look forward to the day when we can raise a glass of 'The Hearach' with you but meantime here’s to these first steps on what we know will be a long and fruitful journey.​

< Back to journal