I love travelling Scotland in the winter months. Mostly the climate is mild, though it can snow and you may get stuck! It is also a time where most attractions are closed and if you come to the Hebrides all places -except for the ones the locals need- are closed.
This enables you to explore the true remoteness of these places with all the wonderful romanticism but also with a real insight to what it takes to live on the Outer Hebrides.
I once went in the second January week to the Isle of Islay and most distilleries had just re-opened after their Christmas break. You walk in and feel like a Royal as you happen to be the one and only visitor. You can chat to people at length, learn about the place and get a true feeling.
This time it took me to Harris & Lewis and one of the places I was really looking forward to visit was the Abhainn Dearg Distillery. I was lucky enough to get my hands on two Abhainn Dearg whiskies prior to visiting:
Abhainn Dearg X single malt, 10 year old, bourbon cask at 46%,
Abhainn Dearg single malt, 10 year old, Pedro Ximenz cask, cask strength 63
I adored the X with its cloudiness, hint of seasweed, salt, a touch of smokiness and such complexity. I usually do not like sweet drinks, nevermind alcoholic sweet drinks, but the PX (Pedro Ximenez) litterally blew my head off. It is strong, it is sweet, but divinely so with sugar cane, caramel hints, some seaweed, saltiness and a hint of peat. I loved it so much that that alone was a reason to travel all the way to Lewis.
I pre-booked a tour and we were warmly greeted by Marko Tayburn himself. He took great pride in showing us around this small and truely unique distillery. You could immediatly feel that he has his whole heart in the venture.
The barley is grown near Stornoway, the water is taken from the river Caslabhat, which the locals named red river (Abhainn Dearg in Gaelic) near the distillery, the peat is harvested near by using a peat cutter (Taisgeir in Gaelic). The only none local ingredient is the live yeast.
The distills were created based on the old illicit distilling process of the Isle of Lewis and they are very unique.
Pretty much everything is done in-house including malting on a wee table:
The distillery keeps cows who are fed on the barley once the sugar has been extracted for distilling. So the distilliery utilises the concept of taking from the ground and returning back to it and even has plans to switch to hydrogen as a powersource!
We eventually got to taste the cask strangth Pedro Ximenez 60% which is one of the best whiskies I have ever tasted. We also tried the cask strength Madeira. Both amazing drams so we bought both bottles.
You can listen to Marko Tayburn’s vision here:
If this article has inspired you to visit you can certainly utilise Starfish Travel to do so; click here for a sample tour.