Abhainn Dearg (pronounced av-een jar-rek) is a small craft distillery on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The name is from the local Gaelic language and translates as 'red river'. This refers to an ancient battle between islanders and Viking invaders that is said to have turned the river red with blood. It is the most westerly distillery in Scotland. Bottlings of Abhainn Dearg single malt are scarce, appearing on a sporadic basis since 2011, making them highly collectable.
Abhainn Dearg produces an unpeated spirit that is robust, oily in feel and cereal-led in flavour profile. Green fruit, dried grasses, peppery spice and floral notes are also evident.
A mid-level peated spirit is made for a short period annually. This is known to be the traditional style for the Inner Hebridean islands such as Islay and Jura, but is also thought to have been so for the Outer Hebrides.
Both styles are predominantly matured in one of two cask types - ex-bourbon or ex-sherry. However, some spirit is occasionally filled into other dessert or fortified wine barrels including Madeira and Sauternes.
Abhainn Dearg is equipped with two stainless steel mash tuns, and these feed a pair of wooden washbacks. They are made from Douglas fir and operate a fermentation time of 96 hours. There are two copper pot stills, one wash still and one spirit still. Both have a capacity of just over 2,000 litres and feature extraordinarily long necks and steeply descending lyne arms.
These plunge into two wooden worm tub condensers to the exterior of the building. A worm tub is a traditional form of condenser that sees the lyne pipe descend through cold water in a spiral, which looks like a worm from above. The distillery now only uses Lewis-grown barley for production. The annual production capacity is 20,000 litres, although it has operated at half capacity for most years since its opening.
Abhainn Dearg was founded in 2008 by Mark Tayburn. It is located on the windswept western coast of the island of Lewis, near the tiny village of Uig, on the site of an old fish farm. At that time it was one of the smallest and remotest Scotch whisky distilleries and the first legal distillery in the Outer Hebrides for almost 170 years.
Tayburn constructed the distillery himself and built the bizarre looking stills by hand. They were modelled on an old illicit still that he had found. The remainder of the distillation equipment - mill, mash tuns and washbacks - was purchased and transported to Lewis. The distillery is open to visitors who are up for a long journey to get there.
The first release was new make spirit in 2010, named The Spirit of Lewis. This was followed in 2011 by the inaugural single malt release, bottled at three years of age. Annual bottlings have followed, including a cask strength expression in 2012. The first Abhainn Dearg 10 year old was released in 2018, both as a regular and single cask version. Further single casks have also appeared in subsequent years.