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The Lake District is England’s largest national park. Since 2017, it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to Scaffell Pike, the highest mountain in England. In fact, all the English land above 3000 feet is located within the park. It is also home to Wastwater, the country’s deepest lake.
People have settled in the area for more than 5000 years. In Neolithic times it was a major source for stone axes, examples of which have been found all over Britain. Today the region is a hugely popular tourist destination though most of the population can be found in a handful of major settlements like Keswick, Windermere, Ambleside and Bowness-on-Windermere. Its natural beauty was an inspiration to William Wordsworth and the setting for Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit stories.
Located on the northwest coast of England, the Lake District is the wettest part of the country with an annual rainfall of around 80 inches. Despite an abundance of freshwater, however, whisky production has historically been limited to small-scale illicit stills. This could be partially explained by a shortage of grain. The hilly terrain is far better suited to the rearing of livestock than it is to crop farming.
Sourcing a reliable supply of barley is less of a problem today and the Lake District has been home to a new whisky distillery since 2014. Located in an idyllic setting near Keswick, the distillery resides in an old Victorian farm building. Under the watchful eye of whisky maker, Dhavall Gandhi, the distillery runs one of the longest fermentation regimes in the industry. This helps to create extra layers of fruity flavour in the wash. Distillation is slow and careful with the resultant spirit complex, yet robust enough to cope with maturation in ex-sherry casks.
The Lakes released its first whisky in 2019. The Whiskymaker’s Reserve is now in its fourth incarnation and comes bottled at 52% abv. This sherry-led single malt retails for around £65 a bottle.
Smell: Rich sherry notes. Raisins, figs and prunes. Cherry. Furniture polish. Varnished oak. Walnut. Tobacco leaves. Honey. Chocolate orange. Cinnamon and oak.
Taste: Intense sherry. Prune juice. Raisins and sultanas. Figs. Maple syrup. Dark chocolate. A splash of water releases some honey and apple. Caramel and walnut.
Thoughts: The Whiskymaker’s Reserve series could maybe have been accused of being a touch on the expensive side given the age of the spirit involved but in their defence, it seems like decent money has been invested in the casks used to make the thing. Each release has also been bottled at an impressive cask strength. They’ve all been pretty good, but this one might be their best release yet.
There was a time I believed the higher the strength of a whisky, the better. I must be getting old because my views seem to be changing on that. The first edition of the Whiskymaker’s Reserve was bottled around 60% and I remember finding it rather spicy as a result. At “just” 52%, however, the Reserve No. 4 is much more approachable and the end result is altogether more charming, in my opinion. Sure, the spirit character is lost under all that wine but when it tastes this good, does it really matter? It has everything you could want from a sherry-matured whisky: weight, depth and intensity.
On paper, £65 may seem a little high but in practice, I think the quality lives up to it. An excellent whisky that shows the Lakes’ team really finding their feet. I’m beginning to wonder just how good this stuff can get in the years ahead.
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For more on the Lakes Distillery visit here.