Photograph: Judith Macdonald - Mike Feehan

Abhainn Dearg Distillery

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 just carried on quietly as it had always done. Now the wait is over with the opening of the new distillery, Abhainn Dearg, (pronounced Aveen Jarræk) or Red River Distillery.

Although it might be a very new distillery they are following old traditions in an ancient landscape, one title they can claim is that they are the most westerly distillery in Scotland. Abhainn Dearg is trying to bring back the knowledge garnered by those ‘quiet’ distillers whose knowledge has been passed down through the generations and produce a whisky the island can be proud of.

At Abhainn Dearg the intent is to launch a single malt that will be on sale at the National MOD in 2011!  This 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.

With the support of Crofter’s in Uig, it’s hoped that in the future they will produce enough barley for for their needs.  Already ten acres have been sown and early signs are very promising. Barley was grown on the islands many years 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 islands, the Outer Hebrides, firmly back on the Whisky map of Scotland.

The business is run on environmentally friendly lines, with a small hydroelectric scheme planned.

The distillery will produce 10,000 litres this year, and up to 25,000 litres by 2009-2010.

He has based his distillery on an illicit still working on the islands until the 1950s, using copper stills and American oak bourbon barrels.

About the distillery

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April 4th, 2010

[...] Croft (blog) WhiskyIntelligence (news about the whisk(e)y industry, all in one place) chwisgi.com (a blog/community where whisk(e)y is discussed, mostly Scotch [...]

February 21st, 2010

Judy: Thanks for the follow up on how it is going. Keep up the amazing work let us all know how everything is developing.

February 20th, 2010

McSorleys bar Glasgow and Alba Importers have both purchased small 40 litre casks of Abhainn Dearg New Spirit. This is new spirit, not what our local paper reported “new whisky” the local paper also reported it to be 2 year old ‘new whisky’, also complete nonsense.

McSorleys bar in Glasgow has historical ties to Lewis and was re-furbished to reflect this connection using Harris Tweed. McSorleys contacted the distillery asking about using whisky from Abhainn Dearg. There is no whisky available from Abhainn Dearg till 2011 and that will be launched at the National MOD. However, what was agreed, was to allow McSorleys to purchase one of the mini casks of Abhainn Dearg New Spirit to take away and sell from their bar. Just to clarify, this is new spirit.

Alba Importers visited the distillery last September and got back in touch in January to see if there was any promotional items available to take to the whisky festivals in Germany. They were kind enough to want to promote Abhainn Dearg to Germany, even though there was ‘no product’ on offer. It was decided to offer them a cask if they were interested. Delighted to report that they took up the offer and will open the cask at the Limburg Festival and take it around other fairs in Germany. Alba Importers are driving from Germany to Lewis to collect their cask.

The Spirit of Lewis, new spirit will be bottled shortly and details of how to purchase will appear in the next newsletter. We apologise for the delay, but are tied up with technicalities at the moment. This is the OUTER HEBRIDES and we are a new distillery, no neighbors to take a lead from.

Both parties will pick up their casks from Abhainn Dearg Distillery on Tuesday 23rd Feb. This will be a historical day for the Island and the Distillery as it will be the first Spirit to leave the island in almost 170 years and the first commercial sale from Abhainn Dearg Distillery.

Hopefully the press and TV will attend, STV will be there and some of the National Papers, so you might get to see us on telly! However there is a lot of snow on the island at the moment, it’s stunningly beautiful, just hope the roads stay clear.

May 24th, 2009

@Judy, thanks for quick follow up!

May 24th, 2009

Marci, look forward to your visit! Just phone first to make sure there will be somebody available to give you ‘the tour’.

There isn’t a visitor centre at Abhainn Dearg the priority at the moment is making whisky, visitors are welcome, but please accept us as you find us and to make sure we are available, please phone first.

It’s a great adventure visiting the Outer Hebrides, we are on the edge of Europe and the first stop when crossing the Atlantic. The islands are remote but stunningly beautiful and for those adventurers who happen to like a dram, we think the trip to Abhainn Dearg will be an experience to savor – pun totally intended!

May 24th, 2009

@Marci: Thanks for the comment. Hopefully the people (Judy who wrote the article) at Abhainn Dearg Distillery will read your comment

May 24th, 2009

My father Duncan was born and raised in Tarbert, Harris
I have family still in Lewis and Harris and visit whenever I can. I’m also a member of the South Okanagan
Whisky Tasting Club here in Penticton, B.C. Canada.
I read about the distillery last year when I was over and will be back to taste and buy some whisky when you open in 2010 or 2011?.
I’m very excited about the distillery and wish you good luck indeed.

Best regards,
Marci Melton