Lewis, the largest of the Outer Hebrides islands clustered off Scotland’s west coast, is a wild, wind-whipped place. Surfers come for a string of golden sand beaches relentlessly battered by the Atlantic Ocean, none more spectacular than Uig (pronounced OO-ig). I came for the Scotch.
Perched in that idyllic location is an unexpected, rather ramshackle sight: a whisky distillery—the first licensed malt shop to operate since local mores shut down stills two centuries ago. Mark Tayburn, known as Marko, is the man behind the Abhainn Dearg (AV-un JUH-ruk) distillery. (The mouth-mangling names here are Scots Gaelic, the first language of more than half (PDF) the locals.) With close-cropped black hair and a playful mischievousness, dressed in cargo shorts and Crocs, he’s a Hebridean Mario Batali. His new namesake water of life is the final bottle needed in a comprehensive whisky collection, its unassuming cluster of huts the final stop on a tasting map tour. This is about as far afield as a besotted whisky aficionado could get. Farther west, there’s nothing but roiling sea and eventually, North America.