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The Lakes Distillery occupies an arrangement of renovated Victorian-era farm buildings near Keswick in Cumbria. Surrounded by the rolling hills and glittering water of the Lake District, it is the perfect site for a distillery, a fact that led founder Paul Currie to create it in the first place.
Whilst living in Scotland and later working with his father Harold on the creation of the Isle of Arran distillery, Paul regularly enjoyed holidays to the Lake District. Nearing the end of his time on the island, he decided that his next project should be to create a new distillery in the northeast of England, where water was plentiful and, much like Arran, there was a ready-made tourist market.
The Lakes opened in December 2014 but perhaps the most significant step forward in the distillery’s progress was the employment of Dhavall Gandhi, formerly of The Macallan, in the role of Whiskymaker. A chartered scientist in distilling with a masters degree in brewing and a diploma in distilling from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, Gandhi takes the business of making whisky very seriously.
Given carte blanche to make any changes he felt were necessary, he set about shaping the distillery to his vision, taking an active role in every stage of the process. The Lakes now produces three new makes using different yeast strains during fermentation. These are then blended together before being transferred to oak casks. Under Gandhi’s instruction, the Lakes spirit is matured predominantly in ex-sherry casks, including traditional butts alongside sherry seasoned american oak and french oak hogsheads, a selection of which will then be combined and left to marry for up to a year in order to create the finished Lakes single malt.
Despite his grounding in science however, Gandhi sees the creation of his whisky as an art form.. ‘my sole intent is to make a whisky which expresses the Lakes through flavour’. Quite how successful he is in this regard I will leave for others to debate but it is worth noting that the companies British blended whisky brand ‘The One’ undoubtedly improved under his advice, raising the strength to 46.6% and bottling the liquid without chill filtration for the first time.
Despite prior releases in the form of the one-off Genesis bottling, or the premium Quatrefoil Collection, the Lakes have been relatively slow to unveil their single malt, at least in comparison with other new distilleries. If the reason for that is truly a determination that the spirit reach a certain level of quality then it is admirable. Whatever the case, the Lakes single malt finally arrived in the latter half of the year, taking the form of the ‘Whiskymaker’s Reserve No. 1’.
Limited to 5,922 bottles worldwide, Whiskymaker’s Reserve has been matured in Pedro Ximenez and Red Wine seasoned casks made from American, Spanish and French Oak. Bottled at 60.6% abv, it retails at around £65 a bottle.
Smell: Raspberry & vanilla. Chocolate covered raisins and prune juice. Maple syrup. Toffee, orange zest and cinnamon.
Taste: Spicy. Pepper and cinnamon. Oak. Christmas cake. Brambles. Salted caramel. Warm spicy finish.
Value for Money: In this world of excessively priced, so-called ‘collectible’ first editions, £65 is fairly reasonable. It is interesting to note however that Reserve No. 2 has already been unveiled and will carry the same price, suggesting it will be the norm for all future releases. Whilst the whisky is commendably bottled at a robust cask strength I can’t help but feel it is a reasonable price for a first release, but a touch high for follow up bottlings.
It’s well balanced, satisfyingly weighty and the red wine casks add some nice fruity top notes to the rich treacle of the PX which also combines well with that comforting spicy warmth. As a first release from a new distillery it lays a strong foundation from whence to build.
For more on the Lakes, click here.