It has taken us some time, and a lot of requests, but we have made it to the Isle of Lewis. A ferry crossing from Ullapool with Molly getting to bark at seagulls. From Stornoway we take a quick detour to meet up with our Island relatives in the village of North Tolsta - I get tea and cakes and Molly gets ignored, as she is not a collie. There is a sigh, and they say ... "She's a bonnie dog, but hopeless with the sheep". Does Molly care? Care she does not. The tundra machair beckons and eventually after even more tea and cakes we set off the 50 odd (very odd!) miles to the Isle of Harris and Talbert. We bounce along the single track zip of a road musing on the fact that the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Harris are one island and without a sheep incident, unlike the last visit, we soon arrive at our destination: The 'Social Distillery' in Tarbert.
Harris is world famous for is Harris Tweed. Now woven, not just in rustic hues but also in retina rupturing acid colours and used to make everything from three piece suits for the country gentleman through to a Vivienne Westwood Crown and basque ensemble, as well as handbags, cushions and all-in-one bathing suits - if your really unlucky, or so says my pal Dea, who's auntie is a font of knowledge for all things tweedy. We might even get Molly a wee coat! But no time just now so we run in to the Distillery shop get our supplies and 'Go West, Life is peaceful there. Go West to Scarista Beach' Scarista will help explain Isle of Harris Gin properly.
Lovely - no wonder the Hebrides were voted in the top 10 of the best places in the World according to Rough Guides. But the
research department at the University of My House puts it even higher. If you look at the water - that ice blue and the ripples, you will see the bottle of Harris gin emerging. The driftwood becomes the cork and the flecked sand the label. This is a bottle that is an 'Òran na Mara', or 'Song to the Sea', as they say here. The accompanying glasses follow the same style. Harris Gin is now as iconic of Harris as the famous tweed is. No gimmicks, just the mere presence of the bottle takes you to the Isle of Harris.
So, let us now dive in. There are 9 botanicals, but the stand out one is Sugar Kelp: a seaweed that is harvested from the waters around Harris. All the botanicals are steeped in the spirit, then the Sugar Kelp is removed, so as not to dominate and throw off the balance. The gin is then slowly distilled in the distillery's pot still, called 'The Dottach' after a feisty wee wifey from Tarbert. The other 8 botanicals are Juniper, Coriander, Angelica Root, Orris Root, Cubeb Berries, Bitter Orange Peel, Liquorice Root and Cassia Bark.
On the nose Harris Gin is a classic - Juniper and Coriander are to the fore. There is also a high hat of citrus with a curling of spice. In short, Harris Gin smells like a London Dry that can be used with tonic or any type of mixer or mixological stunt. The tasting, then blows the classical gin myth, of the nose, out of the water. It is soft and sweet - the Liquorice mingles with the Juniper and Angelica to give a base that holds up the gentle spice of the Coriander and the pepper fizzle of the Cubeb. The softness of the Cassia filling the space in-between. This spice balance is perfect. There is also sweetness from the Sugar kelp, but with a marine vibe that pulls the middle and base notes into a weave that gives a spectrum of flavour rather than a step up or down. Meanwhile the Juniper infuses the whole blend, but less pronounced than was first suggested on the nose. At the finish Juniper only gives up after leaving you with a pine polish. There is also a herbal green quality to the middle that reaches upwards - this again is the Sugar Kelp. It accommodates into the top tier where the Bitter Orange also sits. Harris Gin is intriguing and certainly makes you want to try more.
Isle of Harris Gin is perfect with classic tonic - it brings a marriage to the Juniper and Kelp and there is a lovely herbaceous mint inflection that just gives a lift to the citrus. The sweetness is smooth throughout and the warm spice and orange from the Coriander flirts with the Seville Orange. Use a quality Tonic here: Walter Gregor or Peter Spanton No.1 London Tonic. Bon-Accord Tonic works well too, with a slightly sweeter edge. Garnish with orange or a spritz of grapefruit. If you are lucky enough to have one of Harris Gin's bottles of Sugar Kelp Aromatic Water then you can upscale the maritime sweetness to your taste. But for my money Harris Gin has their balance perfect - so I use the Aromatic Water more as a Bitter to spike the gin and then top with Fentiman's Sparkling Lime & Jasmine mixer. Drink Harris Gin neat with smoked salmon or pickled herring - olives too, they all accentuate the seaweed edge.
Time now to go back to Tarbert and look up the times of the ferry to Uig on the Misty Isle of Skye. It is time for Molly and I to run to the prow and re-enact that scene from 'Titanic' - you know the one, where Leo's ears flap in the wind and Kate sing's the Queen of the Night aria from 'The Magic Flute'. Bet you can't wait to hear Molly howl her version of 'Der Hölle Rache'. Anyway, it is goodbye to Harris and their gin, which reminds me of that film again: 'Love can touch us one time ... And last for a lifetime'.