The Lakes distillery is based in the North English county of Cumbria, the Lake District area. It is getting quite some attention with generally positive reviews. Led by whiskymaker Dhavall Gandhi they have a holistic view on whisky production, which comes down to being actively involved at every stage of the process. It looks like they are doing things right, or at least they don’t take anything for granted.
For this first encounter with their whisky, we’ll put two of their expressions head-to-head: The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1 and No.2. Both launched in 2019, they are described as diversions from their sherry-led house style.
The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1 (60,6%, OB 2019, PX & red wine casks, 5922 btl.)
Nose: starts with a lot of fresh oak shavings, minty notes and vanilla. Then the wine grows stronger, bringing along raspberry and cranberry, as well as some caramel and molasses. Cinnamon and hints of gingerbread. Now these may seem bold aromas but it’s actually mostly the wood speaking, reminding me of these STR casks in a way. Water makes it rounder and nicely aromatic.
Mouth: hot and fairly oaky (aromatic French oak). Back on cherries, citrus peel, big peppery notes and clove. Leathery hints as well. Too much alcohol, too much wood. When we add some water, it becomes more gentle, with stewed fruits, cake but still plenty of spice.
Finish: quite long, on tannins, butterscotch and rye spice.
The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.2 (60,9%, OB 2019, PX, bourbon & red wine casks, 4778 btl.)
Nose: less mint and eucalyptus notes up front, the woody side seems a little more balanced here. That leaves more room for the wine. Still tart berries, some blackcurrants, toffee, baking spice and a hint of chocolate. Not bad, but going back to No.1 I was quite impressed with the freshness of that one.
Mouth: very similar, entirely wood-driven, now with seemingly more tannins than in No.1, alongside berries, grape skin and cherries. Big leathery notes, leafs and white pepper. Water doesn’t really change the impression: this is very oaky. Good casks but taken a bit too far perhaps. Ginger biscuits and aniseed towards the end.
Finish: quite long, on wood spice, oak char and heavy brewed tea.
This kind of whisky often gets a review starting with considering its age… Well, sure, good oak can lift any kind of spirit beyond its age potential. Exactly what is happening here, kind of a virgin oak meets red wine maturation. Heavy oak is a strategy used by many young distilleries, but in the long term the quality of the spirit is more important. It’s probably too early to really assess that.
Both sold out now, but you could try a newer expression like the Whiskymaker’s Edition Colheita which adds Port casks to the mix. Or you could try a newer release like The Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.4 which just came out (Oloroso + PX + wine casks).