The Isle of Harris Distillery - Scotland's newest whisky distillery - is bringing in the New Year by celebrating the filling of its first casks with Scotland's newest single malt.
The first production of The Hearach single malt flowed from the distillery's copper stills just before Christmas and the 561 litres produced have now been filled into casks one, two and three of what is sure to become a very long line.
The Isle of Harris Distillery based in Tarbert, the first distillery on the island and the first of significant commercial size in the Outer Hebrides, only opened its doors on 24 September since when the team has been working hard to prepare its first whisky production.
Just eight years and two weeks after he founded the Isle of Harris Distillers Ltd, on 17 December , Anderson 'Burr' Bakewell, Chairman and Founder, turned up the steam to the stills and the first raw spirit was born.
The new-make spirit has been filled into the first casks which will lie in the distillery's warehouse for years of quiet maturation in what is a hugely significant milestone for the company.
"We opened the distillery in late September with what was really a family affair for the whole of the people of Harris including the biggest ceilidh the island has ever seen and now we have even more to celebrate with the production of our first spirit," says Simon Erlanger, Managing Director.
After a well-earned rest over the festive period, production manager Kenny Maclean and the distillery team - known locally as the Tarbert Ten - will work to adjust their methods to ensure the new-make spirit has the character the company is looking for. This period of 'spirit optimisation' will continue until the distillery's nosing panel, half of whom are local volunteers, is satisfied that the new-make has the potential to turn into a great malt. Then, the distillery team will fill the first run of 200 casks which have already been bought by private individuals, each one with a story to tell, each owner connected in a special way to the Isle of Harris.
The Isle of Harris Distillery has from its outset been determined to place itself at the heart of the Harris community and has become known as the Social Distillery. Many of those first 200 casks have been purchased by islanders and will be part of the island's own story.
This first batch of The Hearach will now sleep in its Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels through many years, permeated by the elemental Harris climate, to develop into what it is anticipated will be a fine malt of character and distinction.
But what The Hearach's final character will ultimately be is in the hands of the gods - the extraordinary reality of creating a new whisky is that no one can absolutely say what it will be like until the period of maturation is over.
There may be some hints, though. Anderson Bakewell was the first to 'nose' the new whisky as it emerged from the still. And his verdict? "Rather good!"
Lagavulin celebrates a double century
Earlier last month, Lagavulin Distillery, which is this year celebrating its 200th anniversary, announced its latest release in homage to the milestone event. The Islay distillery will be hosting a number of special events globally during the year, underpinned by the launch of a new limited edition 8 Years Old whisky.
The new release honours the Victorian writer Alfred Barnard, who visited Lagavulin Distillery in the late 1880s, sampling an eight years old whisky whilst at the site, which he described in his book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom as 'exceptionally fine' and 'held in high repute'. The new release aims to hark back to the time of Barnard's visit, but is not intended to be an exact recreation of what Barnard tried.
Dr Nick Morgan, Diageo's Head Of Whisky Outreach says, "This is a special year for a much loved single malt Scotch whisky. We are thrilled to begin the celebrations for such an iconic occasion with the launch of the first Lagavulin 8 Years Old for many years."
The new bottling will be released at 48% ABV and Whisky Magazine had a sneak preview of the whisky, which is reminiscent of the annually released 12 Years Old. On the nose, the classic hallmarks of Lagavulin are all there: wafts of medicinal, tarry smoke, freshly sawn pine and drying oak, with a very clean, zesty palate, the smoke becoming sweeter with vanilla notes. The limited release Lagavulin 200th Anniversary 8 Years Old will be available from specialist whisky retailers, with an RRP of £50.95.
Speyside & the Flying Scotsman
Speyside Distillery has produced a brand new special edition whisky to mark the return of the iconic Flying Scotsman steam locomotive to the National Railway Museum following a major restoration.
The commemorative bottle of the distillery's Beinn Dubh ruby black whisky has been produced under licence for the museum, which welcomes back its most famous - and best loved exhibit today (Thursday, 25 February ) after a decade-long absence.
Speyside Distillery, which is based at the foot of the Cairngorm mountain range in the Scottish Highlands, was selected to produce the Flying Scotsman Beinn Dubh single malt Scotch whisky because of its track record working with other historic brands.
The small boutique distillery also produces the luxurious Royal Choice single malt under its SPEY brand. The expression is sold through the Historic Royal Palaces - a portfolio that includes the Tower of London, Kew Palace and Kensington Palace.
Speyside Distillery CEO John Harvey McDonough says the distillery's partnership with the Flying Scotsman is the perfect match as both represent heritage, tradition and innovation.
He adds, "I don't think there could be a better whisky to sum up everything that the Flying Scotsman stands for. Just as the locomotive was a pioneer of its day and continues to set new records, Speyside Distillery is marrying traditional distilling techniques with plenty of innovative ideas.
"We are extremely grateful to have been selected by the Flying Scotsman to develop its own brand single malt Scotch whisky, and it will be a huge honour for us to see Beinn Dubh Flying Scotsman hit the shelves in a couple of weeks."
"We hope that rail enthusiasts and people who love this world-famous locomotive will celebrate its long-awaited return to the National Railway Museum by raising a toast to this very special whisky."
The Flying Scotsman, arguably the best known locomotive in the world, shot to fame after becoming the first steam locomotive to break the 100mph barrier in 1934 during a run from London to Leeds.
The locomotive returns to the National Railway Museum in York today following a £4.2m restoration.