Outer Hebrides makes first locally sourced whisky

Whisky history has been made in the Outer Hebrides with the islands’ first totally local legal dram.

Picture: submitted

For the first home grown barley to be made into whisky has been harvested ready to be turned into the Western Isles’ first malt made entirely from the isles’ produce.

The first single malt from Abhainn Dearg Distillery at Uig was released two years ago.

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But it used barley imported from the Black Isle on the mainland because of the lack of the crop locally.

Now six tonnes of the cereal has been harvested for the first time at Melbost Farm on the island - enough for about 5000 bottles - and it is hoped that all future barley for the distillery will be grown on the island.

Owner Mark Tayburn said he needs about 40 tons of barley a year and is aiming for his whisky - which retails at around £35-a-bottle - to be totally Outer Hebridean.

“We are ready to produce a single malt from our own crop, from field to bottle, a dream realised,” he said.

“There is no rule or regulation stating barley has to come from Scotland and it would be difficult to grow enough barley in Scotland to supply the entire whisky industry. However we, at Abhainn Dearg, should be able to produce enough barley on Lewis for our own needs and we’re certainly going to give it a try.

“I’m trying to get the bulk of the stock up to ten years old, held in cask. It is going the right way - there is a lot of interest.”

The £500,000 Abhainn Dearg (meaning Red River in Gaelic) distillery takes its water from a small salmon river, the Red River, which flows literally past its door. The river - which in turn takes its name from a past bloody battle between Vikings and locals - flows into the nearby Atlantic, just a couple hundred yards away.

The left over malted barley mash from the whisky making process is used to feed the distillery’s own herd of Highland cows whose waste is collected as fertiliser for the barley fields.

The whisky is distilled using traditional methods in copper stills and is bonded, bottled and labelled by hand on site. The whisky is oak casked in reused bourbon and sherry barrels.

The distillery employs five people and will produce about 10,000 bottles-a-year.

But despite its whisky heritage the islands have only had one previous official distillery - that in Stornoway which at one time produced a staggering 54,000 gallons a year.

But its end came nearly 170 years ago when Lewis became owned by Sir James Matheson. He was a complete abstainer and prohibitionist. Ironically he made his fortune from the opium trade.

Sir James had the distillery demolished and built Lews (correct) Castle on the site. The Sabbatarian grip on Lewis also discouraged any new distillery over the succeeding years.

However many illegal stills continued.

The islands’ place in whisky fame was sealed in 1941, when the SS Politician ran aground on rocks off the Isle of Eriskay, between South Uist and Barra. The ship was loaded with whisky and the ‘harvesting’ of its cargo by the islanders provided the inspiration for the book Whisky Galore, by Sir Compton Mackenzie, which was later made into a movie.