07 September 2021
The Lakes Distillery
An astonishing 15 million people visit the Lake District every year, which makes it second only to London on the British tourism rankings in the UK. A distillery with visitors is a happy distillery and that makes The Lakes distillery very happy indeed. The site was formerly a collection of 160 year derelict farm buildings on the edge of the Bassenthwaite lake. Since its opening opening in 2011 it now employs over 70 people and has become a tourist attraction in its own right.
Managing Director Paul Currie set up the Arran Distillery on the Isle of Arran back in 1995, correctly identifying the malt whisky boom that followed. With the Lakes he set his eye on making whisky in non-traditional areas, starting with the Lakes. Having said that, the Lake District isn't as unfamiliar with whisky as you might think.
The northern tip of the national park is only 40 minutes from the Scottish Border, and the whole area is full to the brim with old tales of smuggling contraband liquor up the 66 mile span of the River Derwent. The banks of the river (such as the one on which The Lakes Distillery sits) was once overrun with countless smuggling ‘stashes’ where mule and boat were said to meet. Trading was hotly territorial and violent disputes were endemic to the area. It’s a bit more peaceful around these parts today.
Whisky making at The Lakes Distillery is overseen by Dhavall Gandhi who monitors all areas of production, from the sourcing of malted barley right through to maturation. This is more unusual than you might think for a malt distillery (the norm is to have a few different people in charge of the various stages of production) but the benefits are obvious, as it allows Gandhi to affect every part of the whisky making process to fit his vision.
Gandhi uses an unpeated malt which is mashed with water from - yes, you guessed it - the Lake District National Park. This produces a clear wort which is then fermented with one of a few different yeast strains that each produce a uniquely fruity style of wash that is then blended ahead of distillation. Fermentation lasts around 96 hours, which is longer than the industry average and also helps to bolster that fruity flavour.
The spirit is twice distilled in copper pots in the Scottish style.
Maturation here is done almost entirely in ex-sherry casks (around 80 - 90% of the barrels here are from Spain) which means even more fruit, whether it be oloroso, fino or Pedro Ximenez.
There are exceptions however, which leads us nicely on to the whisky we are featuring this month - Whiskymaker's Edition Bal Masque ("Masked Ball").
Bal Masque is a rich and spicy dram that, ahem, 'masks' its high strength (54%) well and offers a really unique kind of seductive fruitiness. This or born out of the casks used to make it, which are entirely French oak - some of them newly toasted (virgin) barrels, others previously home to red wine. We get rich, spiced plums, josticks and dried fruit.
This is the kind of whisky you want to enjoy in a sweat lodge in only your underwear. It's big, adventurous and almost transcendent!