The Lake District is one of the most beautiful areas of the country. It is full of rolling hills, rugged mountain tops, and an abundance of lakes. Well, to be honest, there is only one official lake in the National Park – the rest are ‘waters’ or ‘meres’ for example: Bassenthwaite is the only body of water termed ‘lake’. It is this particular lake, 8 miles north east of Keswick that excites us though as this is to be the site of the first whisky distillery in the Lake District for well over 100 years; The Lakes Distillery.
If we were to go back to the 1800’s we would find an extremely active whisky scene in the region. Historically an area of Celtic origin, and once part of Scotland, it is an area surrounded by hills with an overflow of rivers that meant the Lake District was extremely active in the production of illicit whisky; the climate was moisture rich, the stills hard to reach and even harder to find! However by 1880 whisky making had all but dried up with the Lanty Slee moonshine being some of the last spirit produced in the area.
2013 will see history come almost full circle with the opening of the Lakes Distillery in Cumbria. It has been founded by Paul Currie (who set up the Isle of Arran distillery) and will feature an experienced team including Alan Rutherford of Diageo. A renowned distiller will also be announced in the coming weeks. We caught up with Paul on a recent trip to Keswick and met him at the distillery site to have a look around and also to ask him about the whisky that will be produced at the distillery.
Paul told us that the Lakes Distillery is ideally situated in the National Park. It is in the shadow of Skiddaw with a water source at Sprinkling Tarn high near Scafell Pike that flows down through the peaty land to Bassenthwaite Lake. The National Park also entertains some 18 million annual visitors, with 2-3 millions entering the Keswick area providing a real target market for distillery visitors. The Park also throws up challenges to the creation of a distillery. Planning permission is difficult to obtain and it was only through a painstaking search that this site north of Keswick was found. It is perfect; it is an old Victorian model farm and the layout of farm buildings and storage is absolutely perfect for a distillery; as Paul commented ‘if you were building it from scratch this is the way you would set it up’.
The distillery will contain two stills for the production of whisky, one wash and one spirit. These stills will be small by comparrison to some Scottish giants with a capacity of only 3,500 litres in the spririt still. The stills are currently being built in Scotland and their size and shape will help to produce a distillery style that will be at the ‘lighter’ end of the spectrum. The distillery will experiment in its production by using a copper condensor and a stainless steel condensor in an bid to add ‘some more character to the spirit’ that will be produced. Paul confirms that the whisky will be sold when it is ready and won’t simply be bottled to bring in some sales. Their will also be a third small still in the still house – this pot still will produce the only Lakes Gin on the market using a large proportion of native botanicals including local juniper (Cumbria produces a large proportion of England’s juniper). The botanicals will be steeped in the spirit in the pot still, and then bottled and sold.
The house style whisky will be an unpeated spirit, but Paul told us that there is room and availability to produce some limited expressions throughout the year. Casks will primarily arrive from a Speyside cooperage but as the Lakes Distillery is in England they are not confined by the regulations of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) so expect to see some interesting cask selections or experimentation over the coming years – it looks like being a very innovative and exciting venture with a strong emphasis on the quality of the wood used. Casks will also be stored on site making it a true malt from the Lake District.
From talking to Paul you get a real feeling of his passion for this venture. Aside from the grand plans for the site (producing whisky, gin and having an on-site bistro to complement the visitor centre) there is a real attention to detail throughout every step of the production process. We have hinted above at the water source and cask quality, but that fascination to detail extends to the early stages of the whisky production. The mashtun and washbacks have been designed by brewers, not distillers as that is their area of expertise and the milling will also be completed on site ensuring complete control over the production cycle until the casks are stored in the distillery’s warehouses. You get the impression that every detail is taken care of – even the tasting room will have a glass window to the warehouse so that the casks can be viewed while you enjoy the spirit.
In a further exciting development Paul told us about the Lakes Malt Founders Club that has recently launched. Membership costs £595 and for that you get the exclusive experience of receiving one 70cl bottle and 2 miniatures every year for 10 years from spirit from the first 100 casks ever bottled at the distillery – a truly unique opportunity.
The Lakes Distillery visitor centre opens later this year with production also beginning towards the end of 2013. Thanks to Paul for having us over for a coffee, chat and a tour of the distillery buildings. We thoroughly enjoyed it and this is one distillery we will be watching with interest; we can’t wait to try the spirit and whisky produced here and are sure that this will just be the first visit of many!
For more information why not check out The Lakes Distillery website here.