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The café at Kilbride in South Uist, set beside the road between Polochar and Ludag on the way to the causeway to Eriskay is now open four hours a day from midday, seven days a week.
This gives customers a chance to access free wifi while enjoying uninterrupted views across the Sound of Barra and enjoyed a varied menu of lunches, snacks and hot and cold drinks. The café is open 12-4pm every day at present.
Question: What do the Empire State Building, Sydney Opera House, and Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona have in common?
Answer - they’ve all provided a photographic backdrop for the now ‘world-famous’ Isle of Harris Gin.
Since the Harris distillery opened its doors in September of last year, the frenetic pace of supplying a seemingly insatiable demand for this special gin hasn’t abated.
Indeed, Simon Erlanger, Managing Director of Harris Distillers Ltd, admits he is ‘amazed’ by the reaction. “A week before we opened we had never even fired up the gin still.
“We had worked with Herriot Watt University for a year to establish a successful recipe and the stills were fired on the Friday before we opened. I got a text at 6am on Saturday morning after the boys had been up all night making gin.
“We called the Nosing Panel together on Tuesday lunchtime and it was a huge moment of truth. Thankfully they all loved it and it became hugely successful.”
Having anticipated sales of 2,500 bottles by the end of the year, Simon admits to being ‘blown away’ that final pre-Christmas sales are expected to report over 9,000 bottles sold.
It’s an even more impressive statistic considering that the gin is only available via the distillery itself. You can either walk in and buy it, or have it posted out to where you live.
“We also send a handwritten note with the gin so people will feel somehow connected to Harris” said Simon. “We stand apart because we only deal direct with our customers.”
For Simon Erlanger, the Isle of Harris Distillery represented a unique challenge after 25 years in the industry, having previously worked with the likes of Johnnie Walker, Glenmorangie, and Gordon’s.
“I had never before heard of a distillery being created with the prime objective of helping to regenerate the local economy, creating jobs directly and indirectly, acting as a catalyst for other enterprises and bringing more tourists to the island,” he said.
“This for me was a key point of difference. That’s why way back, before we had even got the money together, I wanted to create a set of values for the company that defined how we would operate as a business, how we would deal with people, how we would make products and how we would sell things.
“So we created a set of five values that we still live by and use them every day in deciding how to operate. This number one value is ‘for and with the isle of Harris’ and our third value is ‘nurturing belonging’, connecting with the people of the island but also bringing Harris to people around the world. These values, said Simon, are what make this distillery so special – it really is a ‘social distillery’.
“We are often brainstorming initiatives and ideas to see how we can involve the local community and its people,” he said. “Last year we had Santa Claus visit us, and we held a storytelling evening round our peat fire.
“We have a partnership with the crofters who come to the distillery and take away the spent barley and spread it to land to feed cattle. We are also working with local schools, who have done projects and even a pantomime on the distillery this year!
“We want people to know that they are welcome here and that this distillery is for them. The vast majority of distilleries are owned by large conglomerates.
“We are also here to return a profit for our shareholders but we have this social element which is completely different to anything I have ever come across.”
The distillery will produce the equivalent of 300,000 standard 70cl bottles a year of a single malt, known as ‘The Hearach’.
As we spoke, the distilling team were in the process of commissioning the whisky-making process. “Our gin has been hugely successful, and we are obviously delighted, but we never forget that what we are in business for is to create a single malt whisky and create a superb distinctive product that the island will be proud of and will help us to stand out from the crowd,” he said.
“The team are commissioning the plant with two consultants, along with suppliers and engineers who are working flat out, day and night, commissioning every aspect of the process. It will take several weeks of experimentation, but we laid down our first five casks just before Christmas.
“We’re now getting involved in the whole process - mashing and distilling. It is an unknown quantity because firstly you have to get the equipment working mechanically, and the second part is what we call optimization.
“That’s where we need a spirit that has a flavour and a certain aroma, because that is what will create the essence of the end-character of the whisky.”
In many respects, said Simon, making whisky is a leap of faith, where the end result can never be accurately predicted. To give ‘The Hearach’ the best fighting chance, the team have drafted in Gordon Steele, who previously ran the Scotch Whisky Research Institute in Edinburgh, to lend a hand.
“He is our ‘spirit guru’ and also acts as the chairman of our nosing panel, training them to use their sense of smell to know what to look for,” said Simon. “What comes off the still is not called whisky, it is called ‘new-make spirit’. It only becomes whisky after three years.
“We might want fruity notes, floral notes, even pear drop notes. The mature spirit may not taste of these things, but you want them there at the beginning as you know it is going to contribute to the end result. Only then do you put it into a cask and wait.
“We believe that the water we collect from above the hill here is the softest water in use by any distillery in Scotland. That is unique. “
The staff – all locally recruited – have increased from the original ‘Tarbert Ten’ to a team of 14. “We need to think of another name for them,” laughed Simon.
He added: “From the very first day the feedback has been amazing, and that is so rewarding. “It’s lovely to see the people of Harris adopt this distillery as their own, as that was always our vision."
Adam Kelliher's latest foray into business - a revolutionary treatment for burn victims - is attracting international headlines.
After a two-year sabbatical from the world of commerce, following the sale of Equateq in Breasclete on the Isle of Lewis to BASF, the chemicals multinational, Adam is now heading up a company that is commercialising a new burns treatment that is fast, easy and can be used successfully across the globe by medics in the field with minimal training in its use.
With his wife Cathra, Adam also owns Borve Lodge in West Harris, as well as the Isle of Taransay, and earlier made headlines in the area with the development of the Broch and Stone Cottage visitor accommodation across the road from Borve Lodge.
His new venture is on a different scale. First developed in Australia, the ReCell® device kick starts the healing process by taking a postage stamp-sized sample of healthy skin and converting it into a suspension of skin cells. Essentially, ReCell is a mini-laboratory in a box that uses skin cells and enzymes to produce a cellular suspension in just 30 minutes. Requiring no refrigeration, the ReCell technology can be used almost anywhere either in clinical settings or more widely in the field, drastically reducing the current time frame counted in weeks for other skin culturing techniques.
As well as being an almost immediate treatment for burns, the other advantage of Avita Medical's breakthrough is that one postage stamp-sized skin sample can produce enough skin suspension to cover an area equivalent to an A4 size sheet of paper, a ratio of 1:80 of wound coverage, greatly reducing the need for skin grafting or skin graft sites.
“It is far less interventionist than other methods,” says Kelliher, “And anything that seals off the wound quickly will reduce infection. It is not an anti-infection treatment but anything that triggers healing, reduces shock and seals off the wound is good for the patient.”
Another key point is the ease of use. Doctors and surgeons can be trained in its use in an hour. Together with the lack of refrigeration, its two-year shelf life and being battery-powered, there are obvious applications for ReCell in Third World countries, military field hospitals and in disaster situations.
Explaining what tempted him back into enterprise, Kelliher says: “I was drawn to the company because it has a very exciting breakthrough technology for restoring the skin layer of wounds such as burns, product wounds and some cosmetic applications.
“It is a very exciting technology, the company has been around for about twelve years and they have done a lot of work in that time. They have more than 60 published trials, the device itself has been used more than 6,000 times and we are approved in 32 countries, so it has got some very strong assets.”
Unlike many other biotech companies which are in the growth start up phase, Cambridge-based Avita Medical is in the commercialisation phase. Kelliher's mandate and rationale for joining the company as CEO is to roll out ReCell across the globe and generate sales.
But it is more than just a business opportunity. “It is always good to be involved with something that can transform people's lives and can be of real benefit because when you start hearing the case studies and when people start reporting back to you that they have had terrible wounds that they haven't been able to heal and that ReCell has triggered the healing process, you feel you have made a real difference to people's lives.”
Recently ReCell received endorsement from an arm of the US Government. After two years of intensive talks, Avita Medical landed a contract valued at up to $54 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a US federal agency, tasked with disaster preparedness in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The five-year contract is a comprehensive offering that will support Avita Medical in its drive to launch in the USA.
Winning the contract was in itself a major achievement. Due diligence was intense so the award of the contract signals that BARDA believes in the product. “They don't do things lightly. You are talking about a big federal contract that is spending taxpayers' dollars which they, quite understandably, don't do in a flippant way. They have got to know this product works and can be of real value to the American population. Beyond the cash value of the contract is the validation of being supported by a US federal agency which carries a definite cachet.”
The milestone contract will also be viewed positively by the influential Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is in charge of medical licensing in the USA and are currently overseeing a separate approval trial with Avita Medical.
Kelliher was at his own admission not ready for early retirement at the age of 53 and needed “something to get his teeth into”. His two-year sabbatical “was good for a little while but I do think you need to be out there in the world doing something worthwhile, and from this perspective, Avita really fits the bill.”
But he underlines that getting back into business is not an undertaking to be taken on a whim: “I know from my previous businesses you have to live, think, breath the business. This is a full contact sport. You can't do it halfway, you really have to believe in the venture to make it succeed.”
Looking to the future, Kelliher expects Avita Medical to have in the next 12 months a very good idea of the efficacy of their FDA approval trial, be well into fulfilling many of the aspects of the prestigious BARDA contract, operating in more markets and selling more ReCell units than at present.
But though a serial entrepreneur in the past, his new job at Avita Medical has not been without its challenges, he admits. “I saw things that needed to be done, but there has been a whole learning curve that has come with the new job. For a start, my first two companies were wholly owned by my wife and I, and those were private companies. This is a public company listed on the ASX [Australian Securities Exchange] so there is a whole range of disciplines involved in that and ultimately I am beholden to shareholders as well. It is a different approach and more regulated by its nature. But I have been fortunate that these disciplines were already in place in the company, and so I have not had to set anything up on the compliance front.”
The main focus is to achieve the value that recognises the hard work to date and the potential of the technology. Currently the company is operating on a low capitalisation and low share price basis, so much of Kelliher's attention is on improving those fundamentals.
His outlook is upbeat: “Who knows where it will lead? Once you show proof of concept and recurrent sales in various markets, and show that kind of traction, all sorts of doors will open.”
Interview by Taylor Edgar
Catalogue from Hebridean Books – sellers of secondhand Scottish, Highlands and Islands, Gaelic, Football and Sport books at reasonable prices.
Catalogue 11 December 2015
19 Eoropie, Ness
Isle of Lewis
Phone: 07810 448911
Postage will be charged at second class rate Please allow 14 days for delivery.
If you are unhappy with any book/books I will fully refund the cost of the book and pay for any postage incurred.
1.Notes on the District of Menteith for Tourists and Others by R.B. Cunningham Graham. Illustrated with pen and ink drawings by Walter Bain.H.B Originally published in 1895. This 3rd edition published in 1907. £20
WRITER Catriona Lexy Campbell is holding a series of workshops in schools across the Uists and Barra this week as part of a project aimed at boosting young people’s writing skills by bringing arts practitioners into the classroom.
Catriona, who is also an actress, poet, dramatist and Associate Artist at Theatre gu Leor, is taking part in the islands-wide Gaelic education project known as Cèaird an Sgrìobhaiche, or The Writer’s Craft.
The project, which aims to bring writers and other artists into a close working partnership with teachers and school communities, is led by Gaelic educational resources organisation Stòrlann and also involves publisher Acair, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s multi-media unit and Gaelic arts agency Proiseact nan Ealan.