The Potential Of Peat

Image: Distillers Billy Fraser and Domhnall Macleod cutting peat for the distillery fire.

Last week we shared a little insight into the joys of cutting peat, a favourite fuel for the fires which burn throughout the Outer Hebridean winter, bringing the sort of aromas which can be enjoyed while walking through the villages of Harris on a cold night. But, as many of you will know, peat is also a key component in the creation of whisky...

During the distant days of illicit distilling here in the islands, particularly in places like nearby Pabbay, the old stills would have been heated by a peat fire. The distillers themselves would have reeked of the stuff too, their blackhouse dwellings filled with a haze of smoke from their own hearths, and even the famous Harris Tweed, exported to all corners of the globe, would have held this most Hebridean of aromas.

So, it is no surprise that our first single malt, ‘The Hearach’, a whisky which will carry our native islanders’ name in Gaelic, will bear a little of this signature island scent. For those of you who interested in the technicalities of phenol counts, our malted barley is mid-peated, around 15 parts per million, so whisky lovers can certainly expect something which speaks of our affinity with this wonderful smoke, guaranteeing a good whiff but one which never dominates the dram.


“Character, Complexity and Balance are what we seek to create in The Hearach”, says our MD, Simon Erlanger. “We know that the subtle smoke we taste in our new spirit will stay with us throughout its time in the cask, complemented by the flavours added through maturation until we arrive at the point when we have achieved our aim”.

It is during the malting of barley that peat truly comes into play, a fire imparting the flavour as it dries the grains in preparation for milling and mashing. There is likely not enough peat in all of Harris to dry every kernel we intend to use, but we do have plans to produce a very special batch of whisky, using grain malted and imbued with Harris peat, next year.

Always learning, we are keen to discover if this sort of provenance has the potential to impart even more local magic on the spirit we make, distilled using water which has also run over peat from our source burn, Abhainn Cnoc a ’Charrain. What we do know for sure is that ’The Hearach’ will capture the essence of the Isle of Harris in each bottle and draw those drinking it closer to our island home with every drop.

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