The Spirit of Lewis

It has been almost 170 years since whisky was legally distilled in the Outer Hebrides and that was at the Shoeburn Distillery in Stornoway, which closed down around 1840. The island had established a reputation of producing good whisky. Two farms on Lewis, whose illicit whisky held a reputation for quality, were Coll and Gress, yet there was one in Harris and more throughout the isles. These distilleries existed a very long time ago, but in truth the art of distilling never left the island, it just carried on quietly as it had always done.

Now the wait is over and a new distillery has emerged, Abhainn Dearg (pronounced Aveen Dje-rak), or Red River Distillery. This very new distillery is following old traditions in an ancient landscape and can already lay claim to being the most westerly distillery in Scotland. Abhainn Dearg is trying to bring back the knowledge garnered by those ‘quiet’ distillers and produce a whisky the island can be proud of. Their intent to launch a single malt at the National MOD in 2011 is well under way and casks have been set aside. But for those who prefer not to wait so long a ‘New Spirit’ will be available. There is hope that in the future Abhainn Dearg, with the support of local farmers, will produce enough barley for its needs; already ten acres have been sown. This will be another first, as records state barley used to be grown on the islands decades ago, along with hemp and flax! Abhainn Dearg wants to be able to produce a Single Malt from land to bottle, a goal they are passionate about. This will impact on the amount of whisky they can produce, but challenging the ‘big boys’ isn’t their intent. Their aim lies in quality and producing a superior Single Malt that will put the Outer Hebrides firmly back on the Whisky map of Scotland