The Lakes Distillery- Tastings

We tried three of the products from The Lakes Distillery in Cumbria. These were The One- blended whisky, The Lakes Vodka and the Lakes Gin.

First up was the vodka. The product comes in at 40% abv and it was tried both neat and with the addition of water. The product is absolutely crystal clear. On the nose I got both a slight violet and volatile note but overall it’s pretty clean. On the palate there are tastes of some cereal notes although of a more baked variety. The mouthfeel quality is clean and it finishes well. The alcohol is exceptionally well integrated and there is no burn to it- overall a very good example.

The next up was the Lakes Gin and this was tried with Fever Tree tonic.  There are a number of the botanicals that are sourced locally and these are expressed really well in the final product. The gin kicks in at a slightly higher abv of 43.7% and this also helps to give rise to a greater expression of flavour. On the nose the gin is a very vibrant citrus array with lemon, lemongrass and juniper to the fore with the slightly more herby and floral characters still there.  On the palate the flavours of juniper becomes more prevalent before giving way to the citrus club and again the heather and floral notes coming on behind. There is a slight viscosity and mouthfeel to the gin and yet the finish is still clear and lemony. A gin very much done in the classic style.

Lastly The One- a blended whisky using whiskies from around the Uk and Ireland. The nose of this is quite exciting. There is a gorgeous light smoked with toast, vanilla and cereal notes. On the palate there is a definite sweetness. It’s complimented by some lovely dried fruit and nutty notes- some orange and dried apricot coming through as well as the vanilla- lurking at the back there are some spice notes. It’s again very well integrated and has a clean finish. An innovative concept that has been well executed.


NB.- Samples supplied with thanks by The Lakes.

Taxing Times- A Quick Comment on the Budget

There was not too much in yesterdays UK budget to get spirits consumers and producers very excited. There is a 3.9% tax rise that will affect spirits producers and, as the trade bodies were quick to point out, this was pretty disappointing.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) , with some hefty gin and vodka producers in their membership, pointed out that revenue from duty had risen when duty rates had been frozen or even cut.  The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA)  in their response pointed out that it was the first time in 25 years that inflation had been used to increase the duty rates across all alcoholic drinks.

Spirits consumers and producers have a number of reasons to be a bit aggreived about this.

Firstly the tax hike was made with a very quiet “No change to previous announcements..”- but it’s only by looking in the actual budget report-  on page 35  if you want to check it out, that the full extent of the rise was made clear.

Secondly, the rate of the increase has been taken from the Office of Budget Responsibilities (OBRs) forecast  for inflation on RPI. This measure is the higher of the two most used indices for inflation and includes mortgage interest payments whereas the CPI does not.  Currently RPI is at 2.6% versus a forecast rate of 3%. The forecast rate suggest 3.2% in September this year (add on the VAT and you get to the 3.9% increase overall). With growth forecasts also being uplifted this could make some sense but it is absolutely worth keeping an eye on to see if these are accurate.

Thirdly the Chancellor had choices here. While HMRC do lay out proposed income Phil Hammond had the opportunity to vary these sources, as has been the case with budget statements over the last 25 years he made the decision not to.

For lovers of craft spirits the concern may be that Phil Hammond has these increases in his spreadsheets for future budgets raising product prices and raising barriers to entry in this vibrant sector. Lets’s hope there can be some convincing arguments put to him before the Autumn Statement.

The Lakes Distillery- Blending Youth and Experience

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.