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Divergences from the house style…
The Lakes Distillery has been going strong since 2012. Occupying an old farm steading near Bassenthwaite Lake, the business has undergone some expansion work of late. Partnering with EJ Musk Process Services, eight new washbacks have been installed. The refurbishment will allow production capacity to be tripled, ensuring the business will be able to cope with an anticipated rise in demand in years to come.
Whiskymaker’s Editions is a series of bottlings that showcases a different side to the distillery’s single malt. The Lakes tends to opt for a sherry-led flavour profile in its flagship Whiskymaker’s Reserve bottlings but the Editions series gives them a chance to showcase divergences from that style. Previous versions have featured bourbon cask and port cask maturation, for example.
The latest release is Bal Masque, which has been matured in French oak casks. Bottled at 54%, it retails around £70 per bottle. The name is inspired by the Masquerade Ball tradition that originated in 15th century France. These lavish, costumed celebrations consisted of elaborate feasts and dances for the upper classes. That is, until the people of France decided they’d had enough of such shenanigans and sent them all to the guillotine. The name was apparently chosen because of the mysterious and seductive interplay of flavours created by the French Oak casks.
French oak is one of many terms used in the whisky industry that doesn’t actually mean much. There are two species of oak that grow in France. There’s Quercus Robur, better known as European oak, which is often seasoned with sherry and used to mature whisky and there’s Quercus Petraea. There’s other variables too, like toasting levels and previous contents, or lack thereof. Is it virgin oak? Ex-sherry? Ex-wine?
The initial press info for this release was rather short on such details but a bit of hunting on The Lakes’ website brought forth some useful data. It seems both Quercus Petraea, previously used as wine casks, and Quercus Robur had been combined to create the finished whisky. As far as I could see there was no mention of the previous contents of the Robur casks.
*Full disclosure: I was sent this sample free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the whisky and the value for money it represents.
Smell: Lots of woody spice at first. Then rich caramel, red berries and dried fruits. There’s a lighter side too. Honey and vanilla gives way to some perfumed floral notes and cereals. Crema Catalana.
Taste: More of the creamy caramel notes on arrival. Quickly develops into that aromatic woody spice. Chewy toffee. Touch of raspberry. Woody finish. Even at 54% it’s pleasantly drinkable. A splash of water seemed to create an oilier texture.
Thoughts: The last few releases from The Lakes have been excellent and this is of a similar standard. That oily mouthfeel is superb and the woody spice dances on the tongue without ever becoming hot or overpowering. I’m not sure that I’m picking up a mysterious and seductive masquerade ball vibe from it but the creamy caramel thing certainly feels luxurious. A delicious dram.
The price point of £70 might make a bottle a bit of a stretch for some but I think the quality of the whisky is of such a standard that it probably gets away with it.