The new world of whisky is all about those distilleries and producers who are doing things a different way; challenging convention, which doesn’t mean rejecting whisky’s heritage, but respecting it. Our next Feature keeps us close to home, where we explore The Lakes…
If you strip it back to the basics of what you need for a new distillery, you could make whisky anywhere these basic requirements are met. But what makes you choose a place, especially somewhere with no history of distilling… Why the Lakes. The Lakes, its fells and waters exerts a pull on the soul, it is a crucible for creativity, where questions can be asked and new ideas formulated; this is a good place to make whisky. It is a good place to be. It changes perspective, gets into your bones. It’s been the same for hundreds of years, with poets, artists, novelists, and sculptors all being drawn here. Whisky, like the landscape of the Lakes, triggers an emotional response... For the Currie family, The Lakes ticked off all the requirements: water, land, old farm buildings suitable for conversion, potential visitor numbers, first-player advantage, but more importantly it felt right.
A distillery becomes part of a community; its presence ripples out across the region, which is especially important in rural communities where jobs can be hard to find. The introduction of a distillery creates jobs; distillation, maturation, tour guides, serving food, and delivering goods, which then embeds itself in people’s lives. The Lakes distillery now employs over 50 local people, and has opened up new career possibilities: distiller, chef, warehouseman. It becomes part of the glue which deepens a sense of place. Situating the distillery here was the first part. To make whisky is easy. Now the challenge was to make a whisky that reflects the place. You cannot force it into a lake-shaped mould. It must arise in its own terms.
Whisky needs to respect tradition, but not be hampered by it. A whiskymaker needs to work across two very different disciplines; that of the artist and the scientist. Dhavall Gandhi was not born a whiskymaker, nor did he initially train to be one. However, whilst working in the world of corporate finance and strategy, he was lucky enough to enjoy a weekend of distillery tours in the US, and it was whilst sat on the steps at Makers Mark distillery that he had his moment of inspiration. To become a whisky blender is to use whisky as an expression of ideas, capturing very personal feelings and emotions. Now with a clear vision of what he wanted to do, what followed was a journey of mastery; obtaining a post graduate degree in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University, a spell working as a brewmaster at Heineken and then the chance to join the whisky-making team at The Macallan. This is where he focused on maturation (particularly ex-Sherry casks) and on his passion of blending. When Dhavall came to The Lakes, the plan was to ask questions and propose new solutions. It is holistic whisky-making.
“My sole intent is to make a whisky which expresses the Lakes through flavour.” Dhavall Gandhi.
You can divide whisky making into separate parts of a process: malting, milling and mashing, fermentation, distilling and then finally ageing. Whiskymakers view it as part of a continuum, obsessing over each part of the process to understand how changing one element can change everything else. Only through Dhavall’s understanding of how flavours are created throughout the entire journey through the distillery does he fully comprehend the possibilities, developing innovative ways to make the whisky more flavourful… “Here… It’s blue sky thinking. It’s how we can differentiate ourselves.”
It starts with the barley variety, how it is malted (non-peated), using pure water from the river Derwent to give a sweet wort. A slower mashing process is used to result in a fruitier spirit. The wort then has to be fermented and this is where the bulk of the spirits flavor is created. The longer you allow the wash to sit, the more complex it will become, so The Lakes push it up to 96 hours, which is far longer than the industry average, in order to create the desired complexity and depth. Then there is the distillation (boiling the wash), where the flavour compounds are released. The more contact with the copper stills results in a fruitier spirit, so The Lakes keep distilling slow and long. In the second distillation, the whiskymaker says what flavours are to be collected. This is the heart of their spirit filled with fruits and berries, vibrant but also enough body to handle maturation in sherry casks.
Maturation is more than just putting a spirit in some wood and waiting. It is a journey for the whisky, as well as a journey for the distillery. The maturation process is about learning, understanding, and discovering the alchemy and architecture of whisky. It is the personality and the layers of complexity that the type of oak casks and its previous inhabitant can impart on the distilleries spirit. Dhavall doesn’t believe in taking the easy or orthodox option, especially if there is another way to maximise complexity. He wanted to add several levels of intricacy, firstly by selecting to mature 80% of new make spirit in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, which imparts a flavour base of dried fruit, clove and a firm tannic grip. Also, using American and French oak casks to create creaminess and spice. And then the place comes into play. We are continually learning how the climate of the distillery affects the way in which maturing whisky moves within the casks, how much is paid to the angels, and whether there are optimal parts of a warehouse to obtain certain characteristics. At The Lakes they want the cask flavours to integrate themselves with those of the spirits, ensuring the wood does not dominate the spirit, but creates new layers of complexity.
Elévage – Is a concept Dhavall has taken from Cognac, wine and sherry maturation, where there is an active involvement during the maturation process. Rather than sealing a cask and waiting to blend the result, he will take the maturing spirit and transfer it into different types or ages of casks depending on the flavours he wants it to acquire.
Blending whisky is the creative expression of ideas, emotions and feelings through the language of whisky. It is vital to have a framework in place, but there should also be a freedom to wonder, to play, to follow gut feelings and instincts. Dhavall’s blending ritual begins with a light meal the night before, then on the day he keeps things very simple to ensure his mind is free and clear to roam; the same white shirt, same breakfast, then either jazz or piano music playing as the process begins. Dhavall works with hundreds of casks, but knows them all intimately, how each variation (type of oak, cask size, length of time in the cask) impacts on the flavours that are evolving. With each expression Dhavall is trying to capture a very personal memory, maybe something from his childhood and starts the process of narrowing down the casks he will use, knowing how they will complement, enhance, deepen, broaden, or contrast. It takes time, but the final selections are allowed to marry together for up to a year before bottling, which is significantly longer than any other whisky. This creates depth, roundness and harmony, and a whisky that says… I Am The Lakes!
It is the expression of emotions and feelings though whisky. When you are making something, you are trying to create a desired emotional impact and manifest something the way it wants to be manifested. Dhavall Gandhi
The Whisky Range
The One is a blended whisky collection that showcases the whiskymaker’s expertise, with The Lakes single malt at its heart, which is blended with select Scotch whiskies and then finished in the finest oak casks (including Orange wine, port, sherry and Moscatel wine casks) that demonstrates the influence of oak and cask seasoning.
Steel Bonnets is the first cross-border blend of English and Scotch malt whisky, made in celebration of the people and heritage in the Border region.
The Whiskymaker’s Reserve is an artistic exploration of maturation and blending; of flavor evolution and defining a sherry-led house style.
The Whiskymaker’s Editions are an expression of creative freedom with an intrinsic objective of outstanding flavor creation.
Limited Editions are a collection to showcase the distinctive sherry-led maturation style and the wide flavor spectrum that oak can offer.
The One Moscatel Cask Finished Whisky
The latest cask finished expression of The One fine blended whisky, is finished in hand-selected Moscatel wine casks from southern Spain. Moscatel wine is made from grapes in the Cadiz province of Andalucía, with the sun-drying process giving rise to fresh and floral characters. It is similar to PX although less sweet creating an uplifting and fragrant whisky, with notes of jasmine, honeyed fruits, citrus and vanilla that all leads to a clean, smooth finish.
The Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.4
Like its predecessors, the 4th release possesses the same sherry-led, wood forward and flavor-packed characteristics, but with a more restrained, sophisticated and even Moorish influence. It is one of the most complex yet approachable whiskies to date. Matured in the finest, meticulously sourced Oloroso, PX and red wine casks, which all contribute towards flavours of Manuka honey, sun-dried fruits, nuts and spice, with a long and vibrant finish.
If you would like to learn more about The Lakes or to get in contact with their very friendly, passionate and knowledgeable team about their whiskies and ways to enjoy them, tasting sessions, or to set up a tour, then you can find them at www.thelakesdistillery.co.uk