Work has begun on the first whisky distillery to be built on the Isle of Harris – with the aim of creating 20 local jobs.
A new single malt – to be called The Hearach, the Gaelic for an inhabitant of the island – will be distilled, matured and bottled at the distillery in Tarbert.
As only the second whisky distillery in the Outer Hebrides, the venture will open up an entirely new whisky region for Scotland.
Isle of Harris Distillers have raised £10 million to build and fund the distillery from a number of public and private investors. All the necessary building and production permissions are in place and contractors have started work on the site.
The plant will over time bring 20 vital jobs to the island, a very important boost to an economically fragile area. It has been a central plank of planning for the distillery from the start, that the project is based not only on commercial success but on the benefit that it can bring to the island and its people.
The distillery, which has attracted finance from 17 private investors around the world, has also won the support of the Harris Tweed Authority, lovers of the Outer Hebrides, local politicians and the people of the island themselves, as well as whisky enthusiasts and connoisseurs.
This involvement with Harris and its community has helped to secure significant financial commitment from the public and private sectors, including Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise, including its Globalscot network and the backing of these organisations has been crucial to the project.
The project has been awarded £900,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). Rachel Mackenzie, HIE’s Area Manager, said: “Whisky is an iconic Scottish product which is loved around the world and has growing international sales. We are delighted to be progressing on plans for the first distillery in Harris. The development has huge potential for the Island, its economy and its people. In time, Harris whisky will develop a worldwide reputation for quality in the same way as Harris Tweed has.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said:
“Scotland is blessed to have such a savoured and well celebrated drink in whisky – it is iconic to Scotland, has fantastic international sales and has a truly global appeal – and I’m delighted that Isle of Harris Distillers have progressed their project to the construction stage.
“Having visited Harris last year to announce a £1.9 million Scottish Government food processing grant for the venture, this latest development is indeed a significant milestone.
“It’s exciting to think the production of a Harris dram will begin next year and will join already established names on shelves around the world.”
“Already, many rural and island communities in Scotland have reaped the benefits that a distillery can bring. This is a transformational investment by a group of committed investors who recognise the qualities of the island as those from which they can develop a very high quality product which will be exported around the world.”
The new distillery is scheduled to be completed by the first quarter of 2015 and will produce around 300,000 bottles of single malt whisky a year. It will also distil a Harris gin.
The first production of The Hearach will not be available in the shops until it has matured in the distillery’s Harris warehouse for a number of years. A limited number of casks from the first year's production will, however, be made available for sale to individuals. There will also be an early opportunity to form closer ties with the distillery by joining a members’ club.
Simon Erlanger, Director of Isle of Harris Distillery, said: “We are building the ‘social distillery’ for the island and people of Harris. The Hearach single malt will create sustainable employment and economic growth and optimism for the people of Harris – while the spirit of Harris itself will shape the unique character of this new whisky.
“Harris is an elemental place. The way of life in the island has deep roots, its people take time to savour what they enjoy and we believe The Hearach single malt will reflect that.”
Michelle Kinnaird, Director at the Scottish Investment Bank, said: "This funding marks a significant milestone in a project that has huge export potential and will bring benefits both to the local community and the Scottish economy. This is the Scottish Investment Bank's first investment into a distillery and demonstrates the breadth of sector and regional coverage of our funds, alongside our willingness to consider new partners and innovative funding packages to facilitate access to finance for ambitious Scottish companies.
The distillery was part funded with a £1.9 million grant from the Scottish Government’s Food Processing, Marketing and Co-operation scheme.
Visitors to the island – recently voted by Trip Advisor users the finest in Europe – will also receive a warm welcome at the distillery. “Collectively, we hope that this will give anyone who is interested a chance to get involved,” said Mr Erlanger.
Anderson Bakewell, Founder and Chairman, had the vision a number of years ago to create Harris's first distillery. “One should not underestimate the challenges of getting this venture off the ground, but once airborne, the view of the archipelago of the Outer Hebrides is breathtaking', said Mr Bakewell. “What is particularly exciting, at a time when Scotch whisky is enjoying spectacular growth, is the prospect of bringing something of real value both to the industry and the islands.”
More information on the distillery is available on the company’s website at www.harrisdistillers.com