Already famous for having a tiny airport with the world’s only commercial beach runway, a 'Castle in the Sea' and snails that taste delicious - the Island of Barra can now add a popular gin to that list.

In summer 2017, the tiny island off the west coast of the mainland announced that its first gin was set to join a growing list of food and drink exports alongside its now-famous snails, which have previously taken pride of place on the menu at top chef Fred Berkmiller’s restaurants in the capital.

The brainchild of husband and wife team Michael and Katie Morrison, the gin has had something of a homecoming this year with the opening of the island’s first distillery – something they had only dreamed about when they first launched the juniper spirit that takes its name from the island.

“It was honestly emotional to see the first spirit trickle out of the still,” says Michael, who added that the opening of the production site was an “incredible moment”.

“It’s one that will stay with everyone involved for a long time, it took such a monumental effort to make it all happen.”

Due to the prohibitive start-up costs of establishing a full spec distillery on the remote island from the get-go, the pair said that they initially had to link up with a London distillery to produce the first batches of Barra Atlantic Gin, something they were refreshingly forthcoming about at the time.

“It all came down to money, which I know maybe a boring subject for some, but we simply didn’t have the funds and if we waited to raise what we needed we would have been looking to launch in the middle of 2020 or maybe even later.

Barra Gin

“That would have been a huge problem in terms of market position as we would have probably been the 7th or 8th West Coast gin brand rather than second or third.”

Micheal is insistent that the journey to create Scotland’s most westerly distillery was always at the forefront of their mind, he said: “The thought of both giving something back to this beautiful island and also putting the Isle of Barra on the ‘gin map’ drove us forward.

“We really wanted to move back to Barra and although the gin was made off the Island we had our shop and premises there the whole time which meant the decision to contract distil immediately created employment on the Island of Barra.

“Contract distilling is often misunderstood and suffers from a lack of clarity, but it helped us create an amazing gin we are proud of and can now take forward.”

Barra Gin

Getting from producing a gin with the help of an established distillery to creating their own was more challenging than even they assumed, he said: “It was incredibly tough and far harder than we anticipated.

“Normally the process is that you get your licence, set the distillery up and open. Instead, we decided to release a spirit, then apply for the licences and move production to the Island as well as keeping the original operation of the contract distilled gin going.

“We have worked extremely hard and learned a great deal which has set us up in a fantastic position to now push on and into 2020.”

With the key botanical in the recipe Carrageen, a type of seaweed sourced naturally – and hand-picked – from the shallow waters surrounding the island, the pair originally set out to create a spirit that perfectly encapsulated a taste of the island – something they felt they achieved with the resulting gin.

“A perfect balance of floral and herbal on the nose” the pair state that a taste of Barra Atlantic Gin will see juniper, citrus and dulcet carrageen “rolling across the tongue like mighty Atlantic surf breaking on Barra shores”.

Already massively popular in the Scottish gin market, the launch of the island distillery – and the subsequent Christmas demand – presented a new challenge for the couple – logistics.

In a desire to make sure all of their customers got their gin in time for Santa coming, Michael said that they had to go the extra mile this year.

“With the bad weather approaching and with the possibility of either one of the ferries that carry our mail or one of the planes being disrupted due to the incoming weather, we decided to take appropriate measures this year.

The Christmas Barra Gin orders ready to go. Picture: Barra gin

“Normally our mail and customer orders leave Barra via the ferry to Eriskay, our neighbours to the north, and from there it is then taken on to Benbecula after passing through South Uist.

“After being sorted in the Post Office in Benbecula our mail then heads on a flight to Stornoway before it finally hits Inverness to then be distributed to its correct sorting office. So, in total, before our mail even lands into a sorting office on the mainland it has passed through five different Islands.

“To avoid that this year, we decided to take one ferry to Oban and then a short drive to the mail centre in Glasgow to make sure our customer’s orders and eventual Christmas presents make it to their destinations in time.”

This extra effort is something that Michael feels is the least they can do for a loyal customer base that made their dream possible.

“Without the support of our customers, our success over this past year wouldn’t be possible so, this is the least we can do.”

• Currently priced at £30, Barra Atlantic Gin is available to buy from their website as well as spirit specialist shops around the UK

 

About The Author

Sean Murphy

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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