Scotland's Isle of Harris Distillery has finally launched its inaugural single malt whisky. The whisky – called The Hearach, after the Scottish Gaelic name for a native of Harris – is the first legal whisky to be produced on the island and has been distilled, matured, married, and bottled on-site.
The Hearach is the first to revive the distilling traditions lost during the Pabbay clearances of the 1840s. The dram is the result of a considered conversation between people and place, coming together to create an elegant spirit of complexity and character. The work of the island's men and women intertwines with the natural world to weave together an Outer Hebridean whisky of distinction. Every drop of this new dram is being distilled by local people to produce a special spirit which has been matured, married, and bottled here in this elemental place, and nowhere else. The Hearach is bottled at 46% abv, non-chill filtered, and free from artificial colouring.
It was officially launched during an event at the distillery in Tarbert on 22 Sep 2023. A village cèilidh with live music played, with the whisky available to buy at the event and at village bars from 7pm that night. The Hearach then went on free sale from 10am GMT on Saturday 23 September at the distillery shop and at harrisdistillery.com, before being made available at specialist retailers in the UK and globally in subsequent months.
The bottle – created by specialist spirits design agency Stranger & Stranger – was first revealed then. It’s been 15 years since Burr Bakewell formed the Isle of Harris Distillery Company, and they always said that the whisky would be ready when it’s ready, so it was a big moment to ﬁnally announce a launch date, on the distillery’s eighth birthday.
The Hearach’s launch, eight years after the distillery opened, is a tribute to the efforts and support of many people: the designers and builders of the distillery, the countless people from the island community and beyond who gave support over the years, investors who supported a long-term vision of regeneration predicated on the creation of a distinctive whisky, and the team that brought the distillery to life who, notwithstanding the many challenges, have remained passionately focused on achieving product and service quality – now embodied in The Hearach single malt.
THE INFLUENCE OF AN ISLAND
The owners believe that the water, sourced from Abhainn Cnoc a’ Charrain, is the softest of any Scottish distillery. Only very low sodium and chlorine minerals are measured, likely derived from the sea spray that blows over our village isthmus.
The rivers and streams of north Harris flow over Lewisian gneiss, some of the oldest rocks on earth, dated by radiometric techniques at between 2.4 billion and 2.6 billion years old. Its hardness helps ensure the extremely low minerality of the source water.
After longer fermentations and hands-on distillation in bespoke copper stills, the oak casks, chosen when visiting Kentucky and Spain, are brought to use. The chaos in the casks then ensues by the shores of the Atlantic, near the west-coast village of Ardhasaig. Despite the northerly latitude, the island’s oceanic climate benefits from the currents of the Gulf Stream. This system keeps seasonal temperatures remain remarkably stable, which benefits the maturation process.
The final, hard to define, element of our whisky making is the natural way of working which requires patience, from fermentation to marrying. This is a slow whisky and the hierarchy looks forward to sharing it at a different pace.
Every bottle is presented in bespoke packaging. The box is debossed throughout including a Gneiss rock pattern taken from stone near the water source on the front panel. The bottles, designed by world-leading agency Stranger & Stranger, will be accompanied by the personal tasting notes of someone from Harris, with different batches offering slightly different tastes depending on the marrying period and variations in individual casks. Photographs of people from Harris feature on the reverse panel. There are four combinations and panels are allocated to bottles at random. The inner panels contain a poem/song in Scottish Gaelic called 'Eilean Na Hearadh' (Isle of Harris). A small booklet is enclosed containing the story of the whisky.
To reduce waste of materials, a bottle coaster is also included, made from excess materials created during the production process. All packaging is 100% recyclable including the biodegradable tamper-proof seal.
On 23 September 2023, Isle of Harris Distillers launched its long-awaited single malt Scotch whisky, The Hearach, to record queues at the distillery in Tarbert and online – where stock sold out in just four and a half hours.
25,000 eager purchasers joined the online queue to bag the first eight batches of The Hearach until supplies were exhausted after just 4.5 hours. At the same time, one thousand people queued happily outside the distillery for up to three hours to buy a first release bottle, travelling from as far away as Canada for the occasion. Local man, Murdo MacLeod was first in the queue having camped out since 2am that morning and becoming the first Hearach to purchase The Hearach at the distillery.
Those who missed out on purchasing The Hearach on launch weekend are, however, still in with a chance of becoming part of whisky history, with specialist retailers and bars and restaurants across the UK putting The Hearach on sale from October 2023. International markets will follow later, with The Hearach available in over 20 countries globally. Meanwhile, visitors to the distillery will be able to purchase The Hearach while stocks last.
The first whisky released by Isle of Harris Distillers, The Hearach is an elegant, highly drinkable single malt, with fruit and floral notes and a long, slightly smoky, finish. The whisky, handcrafted by a team of locals from Harris, has been distilled, matured (in first-fill bourbon, oloroso and fino sherry casks), married and bottled (at 46% ABV) on the island.
The distillers describe it as ‘complex and utterly delicious’, reflecting in part its use of the softest of water and the Harris climate, second to none for the maturation of spirit. The launch of The Hearach follows the success of the Isle of Harris Gin, which is now available in 25 countries worldwide and recently celebrated its one millionth bottle coming off the production line at the Tarbert distillery.
Conceived by Anderson Bakewell, who has a 50-year relationship with Harris, the distillery opened in 2015 to act as a symbol of hope and optimism for the Harris community - creating sustainable jobs for local people and supporting the wider island economy for generations to come. Starting life with a team of just 10 locals, today the distillery family numbers some 48 full-time staff. The Hearach single malt whisky, supported by Isle of Harris Gin, will enable the distillery to continue supporting the local community and provide exciting job opportunities for islanders.
The Hearach has an RRP of £65/-