Dis­tillery chief is driven by job of tak­ing the spirit of Har­ris global

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SI­MON Er­langer’s com­mute to work must surely be among the best in the world.

Weather per­mit­ting, the Isle of Har­ris Dis­tillers man­ag­ing di­rec­tor picks up his mo­tor­bike at Stornoway Air­port and heads down the of­ten largely de­serted road to his work­place at Tar­bert.

And the new dis­tillery, which is ap­proach­ing its se­cond an­niver­sary, is at least as in­spir­ing as that jour­ney through a land­scape that be­comes in­creas­ingly dra­matic and re­mote as you head south, from Lewis to Har­ris.

The multi-mil­lion-pound dis­tillery project, the vi­sion of US-born mu­si­col­o­gist An­der­son Bakewell, has been many years in the mak­ing.

How­ever, as he stands in the of­ten hot and noisy room hous­ing gleam­ing cop­per stills from Siena in Italy and wooden wash­backs for fer­men­ta­tion in what he de­scribes as the dis­tillery’s “beat­ing heart”, Mr Er­langer ob­serves that it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the site was a “car park” used by camper vans only a few years ago.

Now, each week­day morn­ing, 1.2 tonnes of Scot­tish malted bar­ley, lightly to mid-peated, go into the mash tun.

The dis­tillery has adopted the Gaelic word for a na­tive of Har­ris for its sin­gle malt Scotch whisky. And Mr Er­langer’s ex­cite­ment about The Hear­ach is ev­i­dent as he noses the new-make spirit that will be bot­tled in years to come. Also plain is his de­light about the fil­lip the dis­tillery is pro­vid­ing to the frag­ile econ­omy of Har­ris.

The dis­tillery has become a cen­tral part of the com­mu­nity on Har­ris. Isle of Har­ris Dis­tillers will, by the time its lat­est re­cruit joins next week, em­ploy 30 peo­ple who live lo­cally, al­ready ex­ceed­ing its ini­tial tar­get of 19 by more than 50 per cent. In 2016, the dis­tillery had 69,000 visi­tors. Cur­rent fig­ures in­di­cate vis­i­tor num­bers this year could to­tal 85,000.

All of this, as Mr Er­langer notes, means the vi­sion of Mr Bakewell is be­ing re­alised.

Mr Er­langer says: “It was his vi­sion to do some­thing to stem that pop­u­la­tion de­cline [on Har­ris].

“He didn’t come from the [Scotch whisky] in­dus­try. It took some­one from out­side the in­dus­try to come up with the idea. He just had this feel­ing that dis­til­leries tend to last for gen­er­a­tions, rather than [be­ing] short-term ven­tures.”

Mr Er­langer adds: “He also had this idea, if you could some­how bot­tle the essence of Har­ris and send it out to the world, you could en­cour­age peo­ple to come on hol­i­day here. Here we are, 10 years later and two years into the jour­ney.”

By the spring of 2015, a to­tal of

£8.3 mil­lion in eq­uity and £3.1m of grant fund­ing had been raised for the dis­tillery project. The ven­ture has 17 pri­vate in­vestors, one based in Switzer­land, an­other in Ger­many, and one in Tai­wan. Scot­tish En­ter­prise put up £1.5m of the eq­uity, through its Scot­tish In­vest­ment Bank arm.

Isle of Har­ris Dis­tillers has been en­joy­ing suc­cess with its pre­mium gin, the dis­til­la­tion and sale of which are help­ing fund the pro­duc­tion and mat­u­ra­tion of the spirit that will in com­ing years be bot­tled as The Hear­ach.

Mr Er­langer em­pha­sises the sin­gle malt is the key fo­cus of the dis­tillery.

He high­lights his view that Isle of Har­ris gin could be the ideal in­gre­di­ent for gin mar­ti­nis, the so-called “king of cock­tails” in which “the spirit is the hero”, and the dis­tillery is work­ing with its bar and restau­rant part­ners on this.

How­ever, he adds: “Not­with­stand­ing the gin, we are a whisky dis­tillery first and fore­most. This is the lifeblood of the

Pro­duc­tion man­ager Kenny Ma­clean says dis­tillery is a source of lo­cal pride.

com­pany. Ev­ery­thing is fo­cused on mak­ing that as good as it can be.”

Nos­ing the new-make spirit, Mr Er­langer de­clares that Isle of Har­ris Dis­tillers be­lieves this has “lots of com­plex­ity and char­ac­ter” and that it has “the po­ten­tial to turn into a great sin­gle malt”.

He talks about smoke and sherry notes, and a full-bod­ied and smooth spirit, cit­ing the im­por­tance of “bal­ance” as well as char­ac­ter and com­plex­ity.

Mr Er­langer adds: “Hope­fully, we cre­ate some­thing dis­tinc­tive.”

The in­di­ca­tions are that the spirit that is ly­ing in cask at Isle of Har­ris Dis­tillers’ ware­house by the shores of Loch an Siar near Ard­ha­saig, about three miles north of Tar­bert and ex­posed to the At­lantic weather, will be ready for bot­tling from late 2020.

How­ever, Mr Er­langer em­pha­sises the sin­gle malt Scotch will not be bot­tled un­til it is ready, not­ing the board is clear on this.

He says: “What­ever con­straints or pres­sures there might be, the last thing we would do is re­lease The Hear­ach be­fore it is ready. I think we have set the bench­mark pretty high with the gin. It [The Hear­ach] will be ready when it is ready.”

Mr Er­langer, a for­mer sales and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor of Scotch whisky dis­tiller Glen­morangie, adds: “From a com­mer­cial point of view, the more suc­cess­ful the gin is, the less pres­sure we have to bring the whisky to the mar­ket…be­cause of the cash that is gen­er­ated from the gin.”

He de­clares it is “highly un­likely” Isle of Har­ris Dis­tillers would bot­tle its whisky be­fore it is four years old.

Mr Er­langer notes Isle of Har­ris Dis­tillers “sym­bol­i­cally” filled three bar­rels with spirit on De­cem­ber 17, 2015.

The first quar­ter of 2016 was spent “op­ti­mis­ing” the spirit, with the fill­ing of casks get­ting un­der way in earnest in the se­cond quar­ter of last year.

Mr Er­langer, stand­ing in the fill­ing store at the dis­tillery in which bar­rels con­tain­ing the fu­ture sin­gle malt are stacked, de­clares he and his team are “in­cred­i­bly par­tic­u­lar” when it comes to the casks in which the new-make spirit is ma­tured.

He says: “Legend has it that maybe more than 50 per cent of the flavour will come from the casks it is ma­tured in, and where it is ma­tured will also have an in­flu­ence.”

Mr Er­langer adds: “One hun­dred per cent of our Bour­bon bar­rels are what you call first-fill – that means they have never held Scotch be­fore.”

He and Kenny Ma­clean, pro­duc­tion man­ager at Isle of Har­ris Dis­tillers, spent a whole week in Ken­tucky visit­ing dif­fer­ent dis­til­leries and cooper­ages, and build­ing re­la­tion­ships, as part of a drive to en­sure they are as knowl­edge­able as pos­si­ble about their casks.

Mr Er­langer notes that Isle of Har­ris Dis­tillers, which last year wel­comed Prince Charles, sources Bour­bon bar­rels from the Buf­falo Trace Dis­tillery in Ken­tucky.

He says: “We know they have a phe­nom­e­nal rep­u­ta­tion for how they look

Si­mon Er­langer, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Isle of Har­ris Dis­tillers, ob­serves that it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the site at Tar­bert was a car park used by camper vans only a few years ago, as he sets out the vi­sion for The Hear­ach sin­gle malt. NUFFIELD Scholar Richard Hinch­liffe’s new­ly­pub­lished re­port on tack­ling the prob­lem of global her­bi­cide re­sis­tance says that re­ly­ing on her­bi­cides alone has con­trib­uted to the wide­spread her­bi­cide re­sis­tance prob­lems that we are see­ing to­day. Her­bi­cides in the past were highly ef­fec­tive, cheap and easy to use.

Mr Hinch­liffe said: “If you look at the prob­lem sim­ply, her­bi­cide re­sis­tance is na­ture’s way of telling us her­bi­cides alone are not sus­tain­able and in­tro­duc­ing more di­verse weed-con­trol meth­ods is re­quired to dis­rupt the weed’s life cy­cle.”

His study tour took him to the US, Aus­tralia and Ar­gentina as well as the UK. The US was cho­sen be­cause it is seen by many to be the home of glyphosate, ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion technology, and vast acres of just corn and soy­beans.

Aus­tralia has world-class her­bi­cide re­sis­tance prob­lems, while ex­port quo­tas and tar­iffs on cer­tain crops in Ar­gentina has led to over 60 per cent of crop­ping land be­ing placed in soy­bean pro­duc­tion and the rapid de­vel­op­ment of her­bi­cide re­sis­tance in a num­ber of weeds.

Mr Hinch­liffe found that farm­ers and agron­o­mists were ac­tively look­ing for bet­ter ways of deal­ing with her­bi­cide re­sis­tance, with the mo­men­tum mov­ing to more cul­tural con­trol of weeds rather than re­ly­ing on syn­thetic chem­istry.

This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant since no new her­bi­ci­dal mode of ac­tion has been dis­cov­ered for more than 20 years, and even if a new mode of ac­tion was dis­cov­ered to­day it would take many years to work its way through the reg­u­la­tory process be­fore reach­ing the mar­ket.

Messrs Craig Wil­son Ltd had 4,158 store and breed­ing sheep for­ward at Ayr on Thurs­day that in­cluded their an­nual Black­face ewe sale that sold to £84 per head twice for two pens off both of Messrs Andrew Pa­ton & Co’s, Largs and Craig units at Straiton. The 1,316 BF ewes sold av­er­aged £60.61 (-£10.67 on the year), while 631 BF gim­mers sold to £147 and av­er­aged £100.07 (+£4.70).

C&D Auc­tion Marts Ltd sold 3,164 prime lambs in Long­town on Thurs­day to a top of £103 per head and 228p per kg to av­er­age 170p (-3.4p on the week). A larger show of 5,897 cast sheep saw heavy ewes av­er­age £72.84 (+£3.62). Light ewes lev­elled at £41.40 (+£3.09).

Pic­tures: Lau­rence Win­ram

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