Scotch’s final frontier

Being located on the extreme west coast of Lewis, the Red River distillery is remote even by Hebridean standards. Rather more convenient for the visitor is the newly-opened Isle of Harris distillery in the main port of Tarbert.

Led by ex-Glenmorangie sales & marketing director Simon Erlanger, this is a £10m plus project that aims to produce The Hearach, a single malt distilled, matured and bottled on the island. Additionally, the distillery already produces Isle of Harris gin. Intended primarily for sale to visitors such has been the response that it is now more widely available and winning many fans.

The Hearach will be some time yet but if you are interested, a subscription to the 1916 Club will secure one of the initial bottles of the first release, inaugural filling of this island single malt, together with other benefits, expected sometime in 2019.

Our final stop is Orkney to the north of John O’Groats, though on the even further-flung Shetland islands former Glenglassaugh MD Stewart Nickerson is distilling Shetland Reel gin at Saxa Vord with plans to install whisky stills and produce Shetland’s first-ever single malt.


Fortunately Orkney is very well served by Scapa and the better-known Highland Park, both controlled by industry giants – Chivas Brothers and Highland Distillers respectively.

Scapa opened in 1885 but was operated only intermittently up until the Chivas takeover. It has since benefitted from greater continuity and better marketing, including the April 2015 opening of the distillery’s first ever visitor centre. 
However, stocks remain tight and the current expression, Skiren, is non-aged despite Chivas’ repeated assertion that Age Matters. Rumours are that there will soon be a ‘new’ 14-year-old, replacing the current 16-year-old, to be followed by a 25-year-old. That would indeed be welcome news.

However, the dominant force in Orkney distilling must be Highland Park. With its extensive range, sophisticated visitor operation, traditional floor maltings and the marketing muscle of Highland Distillers behind it (don’t underestimate the impact of having The Macallan as a stablemate) Highland Park is an international power brand, notching up growing sales and an enviable number of awards.

Finally the briefest of words on the proposed Barra distillery. First announced in November 2005 progress appears painfully slow, reminding us that island life is not all plain sailing. So salute the pioneers of Arran, Jura, Mull, Skye, Lewis, Harris and Orkney and raise a glass to those Scottish island distilleries not on Islay.