When you think of Scotland’s islands you might think of rugged scenery, picture perfect beaches and historic monuments.
While all this is true for some, they’re also home to some of the country’s best and most sought-after produce, such as beef, seafood and spirits, and Uist is no exception.
Earlier this year I took a trip, with Eat Drink Hebrides, to meet some producers from Uist for our podcast Scran, to find out more about their businesses and why their produce, from prawns to gin, are worth a visit to this island. All of the businesses that we visited are part of the Eat Drink Hebrides initiative.
Only a short flight from Glasgow (or ferry from Mallaig or Oban) Uist is known for its wildlife, rich history, Gaelic culture, beaches and lochans. If you’re into gin, you probably know of the island’s Downpour gin, made at the North Uist Distillery which is located in a historic and intriguing home - Nunton Steadings.
This whitewashed series of buildings date back to the 1700s and have a fascinating history from a nunnery to the legend that Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape was planned from Nunton in the aftermath of the Jacobites’ defeat at Culloden. Now it’s where you can visit for a tour and taste of the Downpour gins, as well as finding out more about the plans to bring whisky (legally) back to Uist.
During our visit I spoke to co-founder Jonny Ingledew who showed us around this beautiful old building and chatted about their whisky plans, saying: “we’re going to be a field to bottle whisky distillery which is quite uncommon in the industry but it’s a nice point of authenticity.”
In the most recent Gin Cooperative Awards, North Uist Distillery picked up a total of five awards and was named Scottish gin distillery of the year at the 2023 Scottish Gin Awards.
After a chat about gin and whisky it was time to find out more about the island’s meat and seafood. I stopped by the Dark Island Hotel for a chat with DJ Cameron from Long Island Retreats and Larder. A sixth-generation crofter, DJ talked about his field to fork business, the challenges he faces as well as how the location creates such a sought-after product.
Of this, DJ said: “Our meat is a premium quality product because of the way we rear it, the traceability and food miles of what we have here is very low.”
Another product that’s fresh (off the boat in one case) is fish and seafood. Scotland is well known for this, but we don’t often get the chance to pick it up in supermarkets, so getting to try quality smoked salmon and freshly caught prawns is quite the treat. I sat down with Mihai from Salar Smokehouse to taste some of the Salar Smokehouse products and hear about how the business started and how it is doing.
The business launched in 1997 and has gone on to win multiple awards for its flaky smoked salmon, which gets its flavour from the unique kilns used by the smokehouse. If you get the chance, try the smoked scallops for something totally different and delicious.
After talking to Mihai, I headed to Clachan Sands to meet Tina from Lochmaddy Bay Prawns. What started as a reaction to Covid lockdown and restrictions has turned into a thriving, and eye-catching business.
The Lochmaddy Bay Prawns To Go is an American airstream caravan that is parked right outside Tina and Donald Nicholson's house. It’s where you can drive up to get your delicious prawn takeaway meal. Donald is the skipper and therefore the langoustines and prawns are extremely fresh, as they come directly from his boat.
I have to say I enjoyed my first trip to Uist incredibly. I met some really wonderful people who are working hard to produce great food and drink products albeit with the many challenges that are brought by island living. If you are looking for somewhere to get away from it all and enjoy a wonderful welcome and delicious local produce, Uist is for you.
To listen to this episode of Scran, just search Scran wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more about Uist and the island’s producers by visiting www.visitouterhebrides.co.uk/food-and-drink