Opportunities just don’t happen; you create them, which is almost certainly the case for the Lakes distillery. Where better to start and contribute to English whisky’s renaissance than the Lake District, which has inspired some of the world’s best writers: Wordsworth, Potter and Ruskin. It is said that here, and only here, could their “vision be fully manifested“; could the same be said for English Whiskey?
The Lake District, a UNESCO World Heritage site where the Lakes distillery has been built within a 160-year-old farmstead on the banks of the River Derwent, is quite the site. Initially headed up by whiskymaker Dhavall Gandhi, a self-proclaimed convention-challenger, to the distillery was conceived to take risks and become “imbued with the creative urge to look for the sublime.” At first glance, the website is like something written by a wordsmith and designed by an artist: it’s beautiful, and with the videos and pictures embedded into the pages, it’s as elegant as it is alluring.
There’s so much information to take in. They’ve taken inspiration from perfumers in order to create a pyramid of aromas with base, middle and top notes, done by utilising different yeasts at different stages of the process. They practice ‘holistic whisky making’, where the whiskymaker is involved at every step of the process. There’s also an appreciation towards the art of ‘élévage’, employed during the maturation stage, which can be as little as moving casks to a warmer part of the warehouse or re-barrelling altogether.
Most recently, Dhavall has left the Lakes, which has allowed the distillery to appoint whiskymaker veteran Sarah Burgess, notably of eminence within Macallan. A 25-year veteran responsible for whisky range creation, innovation, and quality control, she will likely be an exciting and significant assignment for The Lakes as they grow and develop. It will need as much help as it can get, with an aim to accelerate production and initiate planning for rapid international growth alongside an ambitious attempt to raise £1.25 million through crowdfunding to increase single malt production.
The whisky itself is dubbed ‘The Whiskymaker’s Reserve’, the fifth release in a series aiming to portray the Lakes’ artistic exploration of their sherry-led house style. It has been matured in ‘bespoke’ Oloroso (likely to be a 500-litre ‘butt’ made from Spanish oak), PX, and red wine casks with no indication of how long. It does pleasingly indicate that it is not chill-filtered and is indeed of natural colour. Other than that, the only further detail is that the fermentation process lasts up to 96 hours. The Lakes website boasts that The Whiskymaker’s Reserve is “an artistic exploration of maturation and blending; of flavour evolution and defining a sherry-led house style.” Only one way to tell…
Price: £73.25 from MasterOfMalt
Nose: There’s a beautiful chocolate and cherry note with lashings of dried fruit—a lot of marzipan and almonds. There’s a slight perfume note too, almost furniture polish-like. I feel it’s a little subdued, expecting the palate to really kick-start this whisky.
Palate: and it delivers. An abundance of dried fruit, all emphasised with a profusion of spicy. There are the typical sultanas, raisins and even clementine oranges initially, then the black pepper, cinnamon and cloves take over and give it some serious clout. There are also bonus notes of coffee cake and some dried mango.
Finish: Lots of sweetness, burnt sugar and more spice; cinnamon stays throughout—lots of texture, creamy through to the finish.
This is a very nice expression of a sherried whisky, beautifully varied in flavour, relatively cheap (given it’s bottled at cask strength albeit it’s a NAS) and just a little bit different. I’ve been lucky enough to taste some beautifully sherried whiskies, Dunville’s Dark Series being a highlight, and this is up there and probably competes with it, given the lower price. Perhaps the score could have been a little higher if the nose matched the variety and depth of the palate, but two out of three ain’t bad, as the saying goes.
This is a whisky which has been painstakingly created. I don’t know where it’s been tinkered with in terms of moving the cask to a sunny spot or whether the fundamentals of perfume-making have been considered when making it, but one thing is for sure, it certainly wouldn’t make it a bad whisky.
In terms of broader afield, this is another landmark for English whisky. Always deemed to be some way behind their Irish and Scottish counterparts, this is a whisky in the right direction. After I reviewed the Cotswold’s Distillery’s core range, I was impressed; the Lakes emphasises English whisky’s credentials, with more great spirits sure to come.