The Isle of Lewis' first whisky distillery in 170 years is aiming to double its production and to increase the quantity of island grown barley that it uses over the coming year.
Abhainn Dearg, or Red River Distillery, which will bottle its first single malt next year, is working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to identify its goals and create a growth plan. HIE shares the business' aspirations to build on the world wide interest their unique island produced dram is already creating.
Local businessman Marko Tayburn fulfilled a dream when he re-developed a former salmon hatchery at Uig to create the distillery. Tastings of the new spirit at Abhainn Dearg have already received critical acclaim. The single malt, which takes a minimum of three years to mature, will be available for the Royal National Mod's return to the islands in 2011.
“The Western Isles is a very resourceful area, with many different products being made using high quality methods. I had felt for a long time that there was an opportunity to make our own whisky and to do it in a traditional way, from field to bottle,” said Marko.
He added: “Last year about 10% of our grain was grown on Lewis. We have had significant interest from local crofters and I hope that figure will grow this year. I also plan to double our production levels.”
Abhainn Dearg is a one of 350 growing businesses and social enterprises from across the region which HIE has been building an on-going client relationship with over the past two years. The aim is to create development plans which will have positive outcomes for businesses and their communities. The closer working relationship and shared goals means that HIE support can flow from the needs of the business.
Marko commented: “HIE has helped me throughout the process. In the early days I went to Bruichladdich to look at the distilling process. HIE has also used their network of contacts to put me in touch with high level whisky business experts who gave me advice and boosted my confidence. And just this month I have been working with Scottish Development International to look at global markets.”
HIE's Margaret MacLeod says that the work with Abhainn Dearg is representative of what HIE is about.
“Marko has a true entrepreneurial spirit and his re-introduction of a distillery to the islands is an exciting project in many ways. There will be more benefits to local communities in terms of employment and already the distillery has increased visitor numbers to the islands. As the business aspires to achieve 'field to bottle' malt whisky Abhainn Dearg has put Uig, and the Outer Hebrides on the international whisky map.”