You’ll take a dram (or two)?

Date published: 04 April 2018

Ask any whisky enthusiast about single malts from the Hebrides and they’ll wax lyrical about the long established distilleries on Islay, Jura, Mull and Skye, but there are now two new kids on the block that are well worth the pilgrimage.

Ardnamurchan is one of the UK's great unspoiled wildernesses.  Rugged, isolated and utterly wild, it juts into the Atlantic at the most westerly point of the British mainland.  With spectacular coastline, breathtaking views across to the Small Isles, abundant wildlife, ancient oakwoods and stunning white beaches, it is a truly unique place to develop a new distillery.

The Ardnamurchan Distillery at Glen More opened in July 2014 and sits on the northern shores of the entrance to Loch Sunart, in what has to be one of the most spectacular locations of any distillery in the country.  The anchorage in Glen More Bay provides good holding for visiting yachts and it is only a walk of a few hundred metres along the single track road to the distillery.

It’s been a key part of the distillery’s identity from the very start to operate on green and sustainable principles.  Whisky is a ‘natural’ product and this is reflected in the way the distillery operates.  Uniquely in the whisky industry, all the power and heat requirements for the Ardnamurchan Distillery come from local renewables – the river that provides the distillery’s cooling water has a hydro-electricity generator and the biomass boiler is fuelled by woodchip from local forestry – the overall footprint of the distillery is a light one.

In addition, the by-products of the whisky-making process are recycled on the peninsula – the still energy-rich draff (what’s left in the mash tun) being used to feed all the livestock on the peninsula, and the pot ale (what’s left in the stills) as fertiliser.

The Ardnamurchan Distillery will produce two signature styles of spirit, one peated and one unpeated.  The spirit will mature in American and European oak, ex-sherry casks and American oak ex-bourbon casks until it’s deemed to be ready. Find out more at: www.ardnamurchandistillery.com

Meanwhile, over on the Outer Hebrides, at the head of the harbour in East Loch Tarbert, the first whisky distillery on the Isle of Harris is now open for business.

The concept for the distillery grew out of a realisation that the island's natural assets could best be harnessed to address its acute economic problems through a project that brings this special place and its qualities to the attention of a wider audience. 

The ethos behind the new enterprise is the creation of a 'Social Distillery', with the economic future of Harris at its heart.  Throughout the process, local people are employed in preference to automation.  Even the elegantly styled canteen has been designed to be sociable and communal.  With guests, visitors and staff all sharing long oak tables and the deliberate absence of Wi-Fi (to discourage the use of smart phones!), this convivial atmosphere encourages folk to gather informally, catch up on gossip and share a story or two.

The Hearach, (Gaelic for an inhabitant of Harris) is the name chosen for their defining single malt whisky and every drop will be distilled, matured and bottled here in the heart of the Western Isles.  Having recently experienced the warm welcome, passion and enthusiasm of these Harris distillers, I am confident that the character and soul of this new peated whisky, naturally coloured and free from chill-filtering, will offer an authentic dram of the island when it's finally ready to drink. Find out more at: www.harrisdistillery.com

With a lack of berthing facilities at East Loch Tarbert, yachts have to anchor off, clear of the ferry terminal.  So a useful tip for any yacht cruising the Hebrides is to have a copy of Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferry timetables on board and time your visit to avoid the MV Hebrides - Slainte Mhath!

Colin Taylor

Moonshadow Yacht Charter Ltd