Mark of distinction

Mark of distinction

The Harris Whisky Company is the latest company to bring quality whisky to the English market. Dominic Roskrow reports

People | 21 Jul 2006 | Issue 57 | By Dominic Roskrow

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If the key to success is making the most of the opportunities presented to you, then Mark Harris has a glittering future to look forward to.In his career he’s been faced with two golden opportunities, and he’s grabbed them with both hands.The first came when he started work as general manager at Green’s, a restaurant owned by Simon Parker-Bowles, the former brother-in-law of Camilla, in the affluent St James district of London.It’s an establishment renowned for its quality British cuisine and particularly fish and its quintessentially English gentlemen’s club atmosphere suits the district well. And, you’d think, a natural home for malt whisky.But no.“There was a very good wine list but not much whisky,” recalls Mark. “So I suggested putting some quality whisky in. And Simon gave me my chance, sending me off to Millroys with a cheque for £2,000 to £3,000 to spend whatever I wanted. It was a huge investment of faith in me and I have never looked back.” Since then Mark has built a relationship with independent suppliers such as Dewar Rattray, Compass Box and Doug McIvor, who he has stayed in touch with as he has moved between companies and who is now selecting whisky for Berry Bros & Rudd.Mark spotted his second opportunity last year as a direct result of the interest in whisky among the clientele at Green’s.“Having a good range of whisky and being able to talk about it definitely creates an interest,” he says. “But a change has definitely taken place.“A few years ago if a customer asked for his favourite 12 year old and you suggested he tried something different the chances are he’d want to stick with his choice.“But recently customers have been much more prepared to try something different and to search out the new.” It was this trend which finally prompted Mark to fulfil something of a dream and to launch his own independent bottling company. With the help of his mother, Susan, helping in the marketing and design front, and his father David watching over the finances, Mark has launched his first whiskies.Not without considerable investment of time and effort, however. The Harris Whisky Company, based at the family home in Gloucestershire, is the result of many brainstorming sessions and some considerable obstacles put up by the whisky suppliers.“It was important to me that I tasted and selected the casks myself,” says Mark. “That in itself wasn’t easy. I found it hard to persuade brokers to sell me single casks. Now that I’ve done the first ones, though, that has got easier.” Three of the first whiskies under the Harris label – Benrinnes (reviewed in the tastings pages), Tamdhu and MacDuff are not commonly-known distilleries but have been received well, particularly the MacDuff, which Mark bottles at cask strength and a more sessionable 46%.The one exception is the cheekily-named No Ordinary Distillery, No Ordinary Whisky (NODNOW).“We bought a cask from a well-known Speyside distillery but it was made clear to us that the owners would be very unhappy if we put it out with any reference to the distillery on it, so I came up with this name. I leave people to work out what it is for themselves.” With the first batch of MacDuff all gone and a second on the way, and with plans for releases from Glen Grant and for a vatting from Islay, the Harris Whisky Company is up and running.Mark is selling the whisky through Green’s and in partnership with Berry Bros & Rudd. Overseas outlets have been found for Gibralter and the Netherlands. So will Mark be able to balance his commitment to Green’s with the independent whisky business?“It is a complete change for me and I enjoy it.The two areas balance each other perfectly.” Tasting notes

Benrinnes 13 Years Old 55%
Nose: Fresh grass and dry sherry.
Palate: Delicate smoke and pleasant pepperiness MacDuff 14 Years Old 58.7%
Nose: Lime zest with vanilla note.
Palate: Big, punchy, aniseed. Dry.No Ordinary Distillery 16 Years 53.1%
Nose: Mint, chocolate cake and cinnamon.
Palate: Moroccan spice and a hint of smoke Tamdhu 14 Years 58.5%
Nose: Toffee and butter.
Palate: Toffee, spices. Drying. The Harris Whisky Company can be contacted on +44 (0)1285 720 920 and at info@harriswhisky.com Green’s is on Duke Street, St James, London, tel: + 44 (0)20 7930 4566. Contact Mark at mark@greens.org.uk
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