A bold philosophy, a trio of casks and a beautiful bottle combine for one of the most highly anticipated launches of the year, writes Kristiane Sherry.
What a way to mark a birthday. Eight years after the celebration ceilidh on the distillery opening, the Isle of Harris team has declared its first whisky ready.
It’s a huge moment for the team. Harris is a tiny island of just 2,000 inhabitants, a land of rugged hills and sweeping beaches. It's at the very edge of Scotland – the next stop west is Canada. But the launch of The Hearach (Scottish Gaelic for a Harris native) put it firmly in the global whisky spotlight.
Before we get onto the whisky, let’s talk about the distillery’s purpose. The philosophy at its heart is to shine as a social beacon. Providing sustainable jobs for the community, building an income stream, and giving young people a reason to stay were all front of mind for Anderson Bakewell. The founder has a relationship with the island stretching back half a century. Life on Harris has ebbed and flowed over that time. The island’s population halved. Local culture and traditions were seriously under threat. Times got tough. The whisky coming of age means more than just sales. It literally goes right to the spirit of the island.
And the regeneration is already happening. Back in 2015, Isle of Harris Distillery was run by a team of 10 locals. Today, that number is almost 50. From distilling and blending to marketing and hospitality, there are exciting, dynamic long-term career options right there on Harris.
Ron MacEachran, Executive Chairman and CFO of the company, perhaps says it best. “The Hearach’s launch, eight years after the distillery opened, is a wonderful tribute to the efforts and support of many people, including our funders who supported a long-term vision of regeneration predicated on the creation of a distinctive whisky and – above all – the wonderful team who have brought the distillery to life.”
The Hearach: vibrant, surprisingly complex island whiskyDoes the whisky live up to this vision? In short: absolutely. I was delighted to receive a press sample ahead of the launch, and it was a treat to dig into it.
First of all, it’s got a subtle smokiness (I understand its peated to 12-14ppm) that adds both complexity and texture to what is, in essence, a fairly young whisky. Although it’s youthful, it’s never overly exuberant or flat in any way. In fact, there’s a lot going on here.
It’s been matured in a trio of casks which go part-way to explaining the buoyancy. First-fill bourbon, oloroso and Fino sherry impart a wealth of flavour, but in a balanced way that doesn’t feel supercharged. For me, the nose is all about fresh orchard fruit, green barley, coconut and shortbread. There is a subtle smoke, but it feels like a distant whisp.
There’s a smidge more peat on the palate, alongside rhubarb and custard sweets, cinnamon and Crunchie chocolate bars, all nestled in a lovely creamy texture. The finish is where the smoke is most apparent, and it weaves its way through the sweet spices throughout its medium length. Bottled at 46%, it’s got a good mouthfeel while reining in the potential heat of a fledgling spirit.
Charmingly, each pack contains a personal tasting note from someone who lives on the Isle of Harris.
A parting word on the bottle, too. By all accounts, the design for it was conceived at the same time as the equally stunning Isle of Harris Gin bottle. It must be one of the most aesthetically pleasing releases in quite some time.
Isle of Harris The Hearach is available from Milroy’s now – it is expected to sell fast.
Isle of Harris The Hearach tasting noteFrom Shona Macleod (pictured above), Isle of Harris Distillery blender:
I get a gentle peat smoke on the first sip which reminds me of island home fires burning when I was growing up. It comes along with a toasted maltiness. I can also taste homemade apple sauce and smell machair flowers, particularly white clover which springs up on our west coast every summer. Mixed spices appear, and an old-fashioned sweetness from things like candied ginger, vanilla, and honeycomb. Finally, there’s a long, clotted-cream note, mixed with a lasting sense of new leather.