Remember, Remember...

…the FOURTH of November. As imminent bad weather brought forward the torching of bonfires and premature starbursts of light lit up the inky night skies of Harris, we had something historic of our own to celebrate on the day before Guy Fawkes night. At the heart of the distillery, our whisky commissioning had begun. With the engineers of Musk, the makers of our steely mash tun, in attendance, our distillers began our journey into the hands-on practicalities of whisky making.
For those of you who may be in the dark about the age-old processes that go into making a dram of malt whisky let us briefly explain. Firstly you need malted barley, a humble cereal grain which has been made to geminate briefly, initiating a biological change from starches into sugar. You then need water, clear, fresh and preferably local, the likes of which we happen to have in abundance here flowing from our own burn, Abhainn Cnoc a ’Charrain. Finally you need yeast, a magical ingredient which transforms the sugars of the barley into alcohol. There are a good many other goings on but, in essence, this is whisky making at its simplest.

So yesterday we took 1.2 tonnes of malted barley and added it to the broad bellied stainless steel mash tun (imagine a huge silver cooking pot!) and added hot water to motivate the barley’s enzymes into turning stored starches into sugar. Stirred by the steady spin of the mash rakes, those important sugars mixed with the water and a sweet liquid called wort was brought forth which we then drained off, all 6,000 litres, transferring it to Washback Number Three, one of our large Oregon Pine wood fermentation tubs.
Here the wort liquid was cooled to 18°C and 6kg of yeast added to begin the fermentation process, the clever eukaryotic microorganisms doing what they do best, consuming the sugars and producing carbon dioxide and ethanol, the latter we need to distill to make a good dram worth drinking. Down in the dim cauldron of wort and yeast, a great froth and foam was formed and our still room filled with the headiest of aromas, a maltily induced air of excitement that signalled our spirit making endeavours were truly underway here in the village of Tarbert.

While we left the yeast to work magic upon the wort our spent barley back in the mash tun had to be attended to. Still full of good proteins and other valuable nutrition it would make for fine fodder for any hungry local livestock. And so one of our island’s crofters, Donald John MacInnes, arrived to fill his trailer with the delicious detritus of our dram making and whisk it away to his herd of happy cows. It’s a nice and natural way to keep our community connections strong and the cattle will get to enjoy more courses while we are repeating this process until we have ‘wash’ (the liquid which wort becomes through fermentation) of a sufficient quality for the next step, distillation. 

This has been an exciting milestone for us but there is still much more to come. We hope you’ll be with us as we progress on this long and historic journey. It will be a few years until you can taste the fruits of our labour but we’ll remember this day as the first of many steps and trust that when the first drop of the Hearach whisky is finally enjoyed it will spark some beautiful fireworks of its own.

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