An island in a glass: The Hearach Batch 12

Time plays tricks on you when a new distillery starts up. It opens, then often does the gin thing while laying the whisky down. Meanwhile you wait and watch and, if lucky, have a wee sample every so often to see how things are getting on. But time drags. Fingers and feet tap. Three years seems a long time, then it stretches to four, then five. 

Behind the scenes it’s planning – bottle design, distribution, positioning, laying down more stock, finding the right blend of casks. Frantic paddling. Then, almost at the point where you’ve forgotten, the first bottling is there, complete, new, shining with the optimism of youth. Time speeds up. Suddenly it’s a year later and a sample is delivered. ‘Batch 12’ it says. Can that be possible? 

But time does funny things on the Western Isles. Life works to a different rhythm. The work will get done and it will take the time that is required to do it. It’s not slow, or mañana, it’s being considered: having the space to speak and listen, to chat and watch. It’s patience, that unknown quality for we urbanites, but a vitally important quality when it comes to whisky.  

The Hearach might have gone through 12 batches in a year, but they’ve all been considered. This aspect of time also manifests itself in this batch’s delivery. Not just by being a reflection of maturation, but in the way it moves in the mouth. It too seems to reflect the island’s pace. The way it thickens in the middle of the tongue, slow, soft almost oily. Yellow fruit syrups. 

There’s more weight than in the first batches, it seems relaxed, more comfortable in its own skin. There’s a completeness to the experience, a cohesion to its parts.

This idea that a whisky reflects its location is an alluring one. It’s akin to blind tasting where the natural response is to think of what the answer is and then fit everything into that guess, even if it isn’t there. Smoke appears out of nowhere, sherry casks manifest themselves out of thin air. 

We all know the key is keeping your mind blank and letting the whisky come to you, but we’re all lazy by nature. We call on memories and stories and pictures to influence our interpretation. Seeing things as they are runs counter to our way of interpreting the world. 

You want The Hearach to be a distillation of that remarkable island, and no matter how hard I try to blank those pictures from my mind, I can’t. It’s what it is. 

I can’t forget those days on its west coast where sunshine can make the beaches seem Caribbean (Harribean?) before rain sweeps in and turns the green turquoise and yellow, into purple and black and then, equally suddenly, back again.

There is that interplay in this glass, the brightness of the nose, the yellow fruits, the scent of machair, hot sand, a hint of almond. It’s there is the light smoke carried on a fresh sea breeze. The smoke in this batch seems more integrated, commenting, nudging, accenting. It’s an outdoor dram to be taken, ideally, while sheltering on the dunes beside a slow, lazy sea. It’s sweet yet with enough spice to tingle the end. It is Harris’ west coast. 

When I was last there, the distillery’s storyteller Mike Donald took me for a drive and at one point we wondered whether you could do geological whiskies here. Harris has two sides, the fertile machair of the west and the knuckled gneiss of the east. The Hearach reflects the west – but what could a metamorphic whisky be like? That’s for another day maybe. What matters is that you try to get your hands on Batch 12… or given the apparent speed of sales Batch 13… This is a great dram which will stand the testings of time. 

PS You may notice no scores or stars. If it’s reviewed, it’s good.