We were very grateful to get a chance to spend some time with Paul Currie, MD, of the Lakes Distillery in Cumbria. When it comes to challenges he certainly knows a thing or two about taking them on, and arriving at The Lakes Distillery it looks very much like things are going in the right direction.
The setting for this stunning facility is around 10 miles north of Keswick following the shoreline of Bassenthwaite Lake. The finished distillery looks really impressive but starting on the journey was not so easy, especially developing in a national park.
“We came across this derelict farm and I could see the potential to redevelop it as we wouldn’t have been permitted to just put up new build.” Paul explained. “It was always going to be a bit of a long haul and our plans were turned down initially but we persevered and we were able to get the actual build of the site completed in around 1 year.”
The first spirit was produced in 2015 and there is a definite drive to make sure the quality is right before whisky is released. The barrels are mainly sherry and bourbon first fills which will help to speed development in maturation. However there are also a few Port, Pedro Ximenez and Olorosso barrels around so we can expect some experimentation. As a further illustration of the opportunities that the Lakes have at their disposal, and away from restrictions of Scotch production, there are possibilities in acacia, maple and chestnut woods.
The pristine set of Washbacks
We were interested in Paul’s view on how English Whisky would be perceived and how to compete with his young brand and spirit, he explained:
“We’re here to make really good whisky- we want to be distinctive and our whisky will be a non-peated lighter style that may be more Speyside like but has a Lakes note of character to it. The wood we use has a huge impact so we have worked hard at getting good oak here to allow the spirit to mature in the best possible way. Given the progress of the spirit in cask to date we are confident that a 3 year release can happen but we only get one opportunity to make a first impression so it has to be right.”
So where does he stand on the question of age statements:
“It’s not necessarily a guarantee of quality but we have to acknowledge that in emerging markets there is a connection in the consumers mind between age and quality. We have seen interest here in our 1 yr old spirit product so there’s maybe something to be gleaned from that.”
In terms of kit there is a 1 tonne mash tun, a series of 6000ltr wash backs with a 5500/ 3500 ltr still combination. As things stand there is vodka, gin- with sloe, damson and Explorer varieties as well as the One Blended whisky. There is an eye on keeping the range interesting but not losing the core of the Lakes brand.
The distillery has been able to attract many tourists that arrive in Cumbria- the area is home to the second highest visitor numbers after London- and as a result the restaurant side of the business has also flourished. It’s a sensible strategy to create interest and fans of those that visit. Between the bistro and an excellent tour they get a first rate experience here.
The Stills Area
Paul has been involved with a distillery start up before- he was part of the very successful Arran distillery project. Were there lessons to be learnt for the set up here?
” Some of the similarities are there- tourism is important and can be your friend. This is the only distillery in the area as was the case with Arran. From a business perspective you do need to have enough cash. You need to have the finance in place to lay down stock and even although the response to our younger spirit is good we do need to ensure future reserves. Lastly carving out some uniqueness- geography, the product and the story of the brand- is very important and the work on this is always ongoing.”
Paul and his team have already had success- the gin, vodka and blended One whisky all achieving silver in the IWC awards. With continued attention to detail there is no doubt further success, both in awards and the business in general, will be forthcoming.