The creation of Paul Currie, a man previously involved with the opening of the Arran distillery back in 1995, the Lakes Distillery occupies a cluster of old farm buildings in the northwest of England.
Currie had long harboured the notion that the Lake District, with it’s spectacular scenery and booming tourist industry would be the perfect location for an English distillery, so when he eventually came across a crumbling Victorian Cattle farm near Keswick, he snapped it up and began to convert it to a modern distillery, complete with visitor centre, bar and bistro.
In October I was fortunate enough to be invited along to a promotional event at the site and despite having to cut short a weeks trip to Islay, I was delighted to be able to attend. Setting out on a beautiful Autumn morning, I caught a train from Glasgow to Carlisle, where I was to be collected and driven to the distillery alongside an array of fellow bloggers from across the web. This 40 minute drive gave ample time to take in the scenery and it wasn’t long before I found myself agreeing with the site’s suitability for whisky production. The sparkling lakes and rolling green hills were more than a little reminiscent of Scotland after all, minus the wind and rain obviously.
Upon arriving at the distillery we were met by marketing director Kirsty Taylor and head ‘whisky maker’ Dhavall Gandhi who treated us, over the course of the day, to a number of samples, ranging from the youthful and immature to the flavoursome and complex, all the while presenting us with the companies ethos and plans for the future.
One issue which seemed to repeat throughout the afternoon however, was an apparent concern that the distillery had thus far failed to establish a ‘sense of place’ through it’s marketing, which struck me as a rather odd problem for a site based in such a wonderful location. For a company just four years old however, the Lakes have perhaps spread themselves a little thin, attacking the market with Gin, Vodka and Liqueur products in addition to their ‘British Blended Whisky’ brand ‘The One’.
There was also the ultra-limited first single malt release entitled ‘Genesis’ which was followed earlier this year by the introduction of the premium ‘Quatrefoil Collection’. Now there is even a blended malt, made from both English and Scottish whiskies, which is named ‘Steel Bonnets’ after the Border Reivers who once terrorised the Anglo-Scottish border between the 13th and 17th centuries. Individually, these may be decent products but it feels like an awful lot of different stories have been told in a relatively short space of time and I’m not sure how convincingly any of them have celebrated their unique Lake District provenance in any particularly successful way.
This could all be about to change however, as the distillery gears up for the release of it’s flagship single malt, expected in 2019, there is a new determination to focus on the companies core values, chief of which, according to whisky maker Gandhi, is a devotion to flavour, achieved through a dedication to the finer details of distillation and the pursuit of blending as an art form.
Gandhi left a position as whisky maker at The Macallan in 2014 in order to lead the creation of this new Lakes malt. Under his instruction, the distillery now produces three different new makes using three different yeast strains and matures the vast majority of it’s spirit in expensive sherry casks, the character of which will form the backbone of the new malt going forward. Bottling strength has been increased from 40% to 46% with every drop of liquid now natural colour and un-chill filtered.
I must confess that I found it impossible not to get swept up in the mans enthusiasm for his work and would have been happy to watch him draw diagrams of his blending process all day long, were it not for his suggestion that we decamp to the warehouse for a couple of direct-from-the-cask samples. Both of which were excellent, by the way. Dhavall is clearly a man of great skill and is in the process of creating some truly fascinating single malts.
At the day’s conclusion I was dropped back in Carlisle to await my return train to Glasgow. Left to mull over the wealth of information which had been fed to me over the last few hours, I was struck by how much potential lay within this young distillery. Success must surely come, if they can just simplify the message a little and focus on what for me, was their two most appealing aspects… That stunning location and their pioneering approach to making whisky.
The One is a blend of whiskies, both malt and grain, sourced from around the British Isles. Bottled at 46.6% alcohol by volume and finished for a minimum of 12 months in sherry casks, ‘The Sherry Expression’ retails for around £45.
*Full Disclosure: I received this bottle as a gift on the day of my visit to the distillery. As always, I will try to remain as impartial as possible in my review.
Smell: Raisins, Sultanas, Maple Syrup, Cinnamon, Paprika, Charred Oak, Cherry, Red Apple & Hazelnut.
Taste: Oak, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Maple Syrup, Dark Chocolate, Vanilla and Toffee.
Value for Money: On the face of it, £45 may initially seem a little steep for what is essentially a no age statement blend, but the higher bottling strength and sherry influence help to elevate it and make it a worthwhile purchase.
The higher strength really helps the weight on the palate and as a result, plays a significant role in the success of the blend. When I’ve come across previous incarnations of The One, they have struck me as a little interesting but far from exceptional, this version however is a definite step up in class.
My thanks once again, to all at The Lakes for the invite. My visit to the distillery has left me with a sense of great anticipation for the arrival of the first official Lakes malt but in the meantime, it will be absolutely fascinating just to follow the progression of this young distillery, as it continues it’s journey over the months and years ahead.