Isle of Harris Gin Review

From the remote Outer Hebrides comes a unique spirit – Isle of Harris Gin, the first product from Isle of Harris Distillers. Read our review to find out all you need to know about “The Social Distillery”.
BUY DIRECT FROM HARRIS

Isle of Harris Gin Review

From the remote Outer Hebrides comes a unique spirit – Isle of Harris Gin, the first product from Isle of Harris Distillers. Read our review to find out all you need to know about “The Social Distillery”.

Euan Harris | 16 Jul 2019
(first published 30 Jul 2018)

IN A HURRY? Click the links below to take you to the relevant section in the review: 
botanicals,  how to serve, tasting notes, packagingverdict

Pride. You sense it in every single word from Isle of Harris Distillers. From interviews to press releases, web copy to social posts, it visibly embodies the entire organisation.

Perhaps that’s because those behind the brand message love their job and know they’ve got a great product. While almost certainly the case, it’s probably more a symptom of the core values and ethos instilled from the outset. This is a distillery for the entire community.

The story.

The Social Distillery

Such is this ethos, I could write about it for a full article itself. For the purposes of the review, I’ll stick to what I feel are some of the key points to note. And what adds that extra level of magic which elevates a good gin to a great one.

Nicknamed “The Social Distillery”, the distillery was the brainchild of Anderson Bakewell. The US-born musicologist has had a love affair of the Hebridean island since the 1960s.

Bakewell’s affection for Harris led him to found the Distillery, with the help of 17 private investors, to bolster the island’s economy. Not just from the distillery itself, but through tourism to the island.

Speaking to the Herald in 2017, managing director Simon Erlanger stated that Bakewell  “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.” (If you haven’t seen any pictures of Harris, a quick Google search will have you sold!)

Now, over 2 years into the journey, Isle of Harris Distillers employ over 30 islanders, or “Hearach” to give the Gaelic term for a Harris native. This includes school leavers and distillers who had no previous experience, all trained up to a level capable of making their spirits.  In November 2018 they also took on a school leaver as an apprentice distiller. Not a bad first job if you ask me!  With an island population of less than 1,916, this alone is quite a sizeable boost to the economy.

Visitor numbers to the distillery hit 92,000 in 2018, an increase of over 10% on 2017. To put that into perspective, the entire Outer Hebrides had around 220,000 visitors in 2017 according to VisitScotland. These figures alone highlight just what Harris Distillers are doing for the island.

Bottling the spirit of Harris

With a focus on boosting the local economy, Isle of Harris Distillers home-trained five islanders to expertly produce their spirits.

The Hearach

Despite the incredible success of their gin, Harris Distillers describe themselves as “first and foremost a whisky distillery”. It’s from Scottish Gaelic that they’ve named their forthcoming whisky, The Hearach.

As with many distilleries, producing gin is the perfect way to keep cashflow going until the whisky has matured. However, the gin’s success has surpassed all expectations, which in turn has contributed to a higher number of employees than initially targeted.

The Hearach is expected to be ready for bottling in 2020, but given the high benchmark set with their gin, the board of Harris Distillers is clear it will not be rushed.

“For, with and from the Isle of Harris”

There’s been a huge debate about gin’s provenance, particularly in Scotland.

What defines a Scottish gin? Many believe a true Scottish gin needs to be distilled in the country, as opposed to an increasing trend of getting a recipe and contract distilling down south, for example. While I’ve my own views on this, that’s for another article.

Brands such as Eden Mill have been particularly vocal about “Scottishness”, while the Scottish Gin Society have been doing their bit to increase transparency about where a gin is made with their A-Z of Scottish Gins.

Provenance is also central to Harris Distillers. One of their core values is ‘for, with and from the Isle of Harris’. As well as their local employees, they also use local ingredients as one of their key botanicals – sugar kelp. This is ethically harvested from around the island by local diver Lewis Mackenzie. It’s a fascinating process in itself, and you can read more here.

Harris Distillers’ strict ‘buy direct’ model is also quite unique. With a network of ‘click and collect’ partners, every order of Isle of Harris gin is placed through their own website or in person at the distillery. By controlling the supply chain in this way, it helps to maximise profit margins, while adding that extra sparkle of magic for the customer. Every drop is distilled and bottled in Harris, and shipped directly to you.

The mark of provenance

To further reinforce the island connection, the distillery’s coordinates are printed on the tape across the bottle stopper. You can be sure that your bottle of Harris Gin was created in Tarbet at 57° 53’ N 6° 48’ W.

Isle of Harris Gin bottle stop with coordinates of the distillery - 57° 53’ N 6° 48’ W

Botanicals

juniper, coriander seeds, cassia bark, angelica root, bitter orange, cubeb, liquorice root, orris root, sugar kelp

Isle of Harris Gin perfect serve

1. Add plenty of ice to a glass

2. Rub a generous wedge of red grapefruit around the glass, then place inside

3. Pour in 50ml of Isle of Harris Gin

4. Add a few drops of Sugar Kelp Aromatic Water

5. Top up with Walter Gregor’s tonic to taste (but not too much!)

Where once Hendrick’s was the pioneer, Harris Gin has taken up the mantle

Neat

Tasting notes.

What does Isle of Harris Gin taste like?

Nose

Opening the cork gives a satisfying deep, echoey pop. It certainly whets the appetite. As you nose the gin, it’s juniper-forward, fresh and sweet. Citrus notes of the bitter orange and coriander aren’t far away, while always in the background is the sugar kelp, adding a rich maritime scent, really helping to transport you to the Hebridean isle.

It’s very much a traditional gin to the nose, but with a contemporary twist.

Neat

Harris Distillers prefer to sip their gin neat over ice. As you do so citrus notes are the first to appear before fading to bring juniper from the background. There’s a sweetness here from the liquorice before the cassia bark and cubeb provide a peppery finish.

The sugar kelp makes itself known with a sweet saltiness. Overall, it’s a really well-balanced, refreshing and smooth gin when tasted neat. There’s nothing too overpowering and certainly enjoyable as a sipping gin.

With tonic

When tonic is added… there’s not much I can say other than “wow!” A G&T really takes Harris Gin to a whole new level. The juniper and sugar kelp rush to the fore, closely followed by sweet citrus. The sweetness is accentuated compared to when tasted neat, while there’s a floral fruitiness in the background. It’s absolutely divine.

As the citrus fades away there’s a gently warming spice and herbaceous finish. Bitter citrus lingers on the taste buds, should you be able to wait long enough before having another sip from your glass! There’s no doubt you’re drinking something special and it’s exactly the sort of flavour profile I love.

Harris Distillers recommend Walter Gregor’s Tonic Water, which goes really nicely with the gin. It’s lighter on the fizz than many brands, so if you like something a bit more bubbly, I’d recommend Fever-Tree Mediterranean. To garnish, they recommend red grapefruit, while my personal preference is a wedge of orange. Either way, it’s a simply stunning gin.

Packaging.

A thing of beauty

Now onto the bottle! If there’s a more stunning design, both conceptually and aesthetically, I’ve yet to see it. We named it our favourite against some tough opposition, and while there’s been some lovely new packaging on the market nothing has surpassed this thing of beauty.

Working with specialist spirits branding agency Stranger & Stranger, they’ve come up with something which really encapsulates the stunningly rugged landscape of Harris. The ribbed turquoise bottle, reflecting the island’s crystal clear water.

Each label is unique too – individually flecked with fragments of copper leaf and sugar kelp, further capturing the Hebridean landscape. There are fingerprints on the sides of the bottle too as if the bottle was washed up on the beach.

On the bottom of the bottle there’s a hidden message in Latin – “Esse Quam Videri”, which means “to be, rather than to seem”. I admit I never noticed this and credit to the amazing Gin Cooperative for pointing out this little nugget!

There’s no doubt the bottle has added to the vociferous demand Harris Distillers have experienced for their gin. However, that’s only going to get you so far. It’s the spirit on the inside that will have people coming back time and again for more. And we’ve no doubt it does!

Packaging.

A thing of beauty

Now onto the bottle! If there’s a more stunning design, both conceptually and aesthetically, I’ve yet to see it. We named it our favourite against some tough opposition, and while there’s been some lovely new packaging on the market nothing has surpassed this thing of beauty.

Working with specialist spirits branding agency Stranger & Stranger, they’ve come up with something which really encapsulates the stunningly rugged landscape of Harris. The ribbed turquoise bottle, reflecting the island’s crystal clear water.

Each label is unique too – individually flecked with fragments of copper leaf and sugar kelp, further capturing the Hebridean landscape. There are fingerprints on the sides of the bottle too as if the bottle was washed up on the beach.

On the bottom of the bottle there’s a hidden message in Latin – “Esse Quam Videri”, which means “to be, rather than to seem”. I admit I never noticed this and credit to the amazing Gin Cooperative for pointing out this little nugget!

There’s no doubt the bottle has added to the vociferous demand Harris Distillers have experienced for their gin. However, that’s only going to get you so far. It’s the spirit on the inside that will have people coming back time and again for more. And we’ve no doubt it does!

REVIEW VERDICT.

%

OVERALL RATING

  • BRANDING 98%
  • ORIGINALITY 91%
  • TASTE 97%

Summary

Isle of Harris Gin is everything I hoped it to be. It’s the new jewel in the Scottish gin crown. Where once Hendrick’s was the pioneer, Harris Gin has taken up the mantle.

For me it ticks every box – both as a gin fanatic and by meeting the aims Bakewell set out to achieve. The beauty of the island is enclosed in the bottle and is now sent out to every corner of the globe. They’ve done things differently. They’ve done things better. And for my money, there’s not a gin out there I’ve tried which can surpass it. The standard has been set. It’s over to the rest to rise to the challenge.