Our New Arrival of the Week is the first in a series of releases, all of which are set to be heavily influenced by sherry casks. Meet The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1!
When we spoke with Dhavall Gandhi, whisky-maker-in-chief at The Lakes Distillery, back in May 2018, he explained that the distillery’s “main flagship is still a little way away but we are coming out with different styles, and these are much more intense in character and very, very sherry-orientated. So if you like sherry bombs you are going to like the initial releases of Lakes Distillery!”
Fast forward to September 2019, and the Cumbria-based distillery has launched the expression Gandhi teased us about: The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1. Unlike previous whiskies from the National Park’s first legal spirits producer, The ONE and Steel Bonnets, this is a single malt and it’s also the first whisky to form part of a range. The Whiskymaker’s Reserve is tipped to showcase the sherry-led house style defined by Gandhi, or the “artistic exploration of maturation, blending and flavour evolution”, as it was put in the press release.
Happily, the Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1 does not fail to live up to the billing Gandhi gave it last year. It was matured in Pedro Ximénez sherry and red wine casks, comprising of American, Spanish and French oak, and to taste it has all the hallmarks of a sherry bomb (more on that later). Such distinctive styles of cask and the varying breeds of oak point to a distillery flexing its maturation muscles, as promised. The Lakes Distillery also made it known in the press materials that it has matured its spirits in PX, cream and fino sherry casks, from 500-litre butts to 205-litre hogsheads, and in our interview, Gandhi spoke of using orange wine casks from Andalusia, Spain and innovating with various types of bourbon casks too.
Gandhi’s decision to join The Lakes Distillery was partly for the opportunity to define the house style of a new distillery. The former Macallan-man (a role which presumably influenced his love for maturing whisky in sherry-casks) seems to be wasting no time in making his mark. A quote from Nigel Mills, co-founder of The Lakes Distillery, revealed the extent of his creative licence: “Unusually, Dhavall is actively involved at every stage of the process. From the choice of barley to the intricacy of bespoke cask production and selection, and knowing each cask intimately as it matures. It’s holistic whisky-making”.
The name ‘Whiskymaker’s Reserve’ appears to be quite apt, then. What we’re tasting here is not only a presentation of the character of the Lakes Distillery’s or its already impressive cask selection but something of a personal statement from the whisky maker. The question is, what does The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1 say about Gandhi?
Firstly, his desire to experiment with various styles of casks suggests that he finds the fact that English whisky doesn’t have quite the historical precedent or legislative structure of Scotch to be liberating. “Creating a new whisky requires a framework of sorts, but there must be room within it to play, to follow gut feeling and instinct,” says Gandhi. “At The Lakes, we respect the conventions of Scotch whisky heritage but are open to a world of other influences, interpreting what we believe is right to make The Lakes Single Malt one of the finest whiskies in the world.”
The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1 also demonstrates that Gandhi is a patient and methodical worker. This bottling wasn’t exactly rushed out of the door (we’ve been waiting over a year here Dhavall, mate). Furthermore, the combination of two distinctive cask types like this could have given Gandhi an expensive and complex self-inflicted problem. Nobody wants barrel upon barrel of unbalanced, unusable spirit. Bottling the expression without chill-filtration or any additional colouring at cask strength 60.6% ABV also gives him nowhere to hide.
For Gandhi, however, this very much seems to be the point. “We don’t believe in taking the easy option if there’s another way to add a new dimension of flavour – for the Lakes, that means not only creating flavour in the new make spirit but also opening up more flavour possibilities through the entire whisky-making process,” he says. This means we can expect more intriguing bottlings in the future, folks.
For now, we get to enjoy The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1. So, what do we make of it? Well, we like it and so will anyone else who loves a heavily-sherried whisky. It’s sweet, spicy, nutty and just a little bit funky. Both casks rush to centre stage on both the nose and palate, but both are impressively balanced and instead of competing with each other, the profile is actually quite complementary. Plus the distillery character manages to avoid being drowned in this cask-forward fun. The first batch is limited to 5,922 bottles, which is a shame, and the price tag might be a touch high for a no-age-statement bottling for some people’s taste, but overall it’s fair to we’re fans, and we’re very excited to see what’s next.
The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1:
Nose: Black wine gums, marmalade and resinous sherried funk initially, with winter spice and rich caramel. There’s nutty malted barley and sugared almonds underneath, as well as a hint of Crunchie chocolate bar.
Palate: A rich, yet refined palate leads with succulent blackcurrants, dried orange peel and vanilla fudge, with wine-stained oak, bitter herbs and a touch of flint in support.
Finish: Woody tannins sparkle into life among dried fruit, apples and dark chocolate.
Overall: Hugely satisfying, it’s a funky, fruity and undoubtedly sherry-tastic dram.