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The Shoeburn was in full production around 1833 and records state that the spirit was in ‘great demand’, although it also mentions that little of the whisky left the island, that the great demand came from the town of Stornoway where ‘considerable quantities of spirit’ were bought.

Further afield, an offer in 1835 by Mr A. Robertson requested he could act as a London agent. Mr Robertson stated he had London and Indian connections and he could sell 1,000 to 2000 gallons of whisky. The outcome of this wasn’t known and Mackenzie was experiencing financial problems.  The distillery appears to have closed down in or around 1840 the exact reason isn’t known. In 1844 the island was sold on to Sir James Matheson, a complete abstainer and prohibitionist, who demolished the buildings and replaced them with Lews Castle.
One character associated with the distillery was the last distiller in charge, a Mr Thomas Macnee, who was renowned for his generous measures. He became so well known that his name lives on in Gaelic ‘Tomhas mhÓr Mhic Mith’ he offered the many people who came to the distillery a good measure for cash including foreign sailors.
Although the Shoeburn was the last legal distillery on the island there is mention by the Elizabethan travel writer Fynes Moryson of three whiskies being produced as far back as the 1600’s, of one he wrote;

“A third sort is called usquebaugh baul, id est, usquebaugh, which at first taste affects all the members of the body: two spoonfuls of this last liquor is a sufficient dose; and if any man exceed this, it would presently stop his breath, and endanger his life.”

One hundred years on and another Mackenzie, this one the Rev. Colin Mackenzie of the parish of Stornoway writes in the Old Statistical Account of Scotland:

“The people of the town seldom have menservants engaged for the year; and it is a curious circumstance, that, time out of rememberance, their maidservants were in the habit of drinking, every morning, a wine glass full of whisky, which their mistress gave them; this barbarous custom became so well established by length of time, that if the practice of it should happen to be neglected or forgotten in a family, even once, discontent and idleness throughout the day, on the part of the maid or maids, would be the sure consequence.”

Prior to the Shoeburn distillery two other producers of illegal whisky were well known and had the support of the local populace, these were located in Coll and Gress. These two illicit stills had the reputation of producing quality whisky and it was a matter of personal preference as to whose was best.

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Abhainn Dearg Distillery
Isle of Lewis
Outer Hebrides

V.A.T Reg: 658380016

Telephone: 01851 672429


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