My first tour of a whisky distillery took place many years ago on the Inner Hebridean Isle of Skye, a remote, rugged, windswept island, yet one of the most beautiful landscapes of Scotland. Persistent rain was beginning to dampen my enthusiasm for the Western Isles until I came across my ` shelter from the storm` in the form of the Talisker Distillery.
Up until that point I had not considered whisky as my drink of choice. After a very enlightening tour of the distillery, I was invited to taste several `expressions` of Talisker single malt. The smell and taste of the only whisky on the island of Skye, bursting with waves of smokiness and hints of black pepper connected with me immediately.
“The water was not fit to drink. To make it palatable, we had to add whisky. By diligent effort, I learned to like it.”
Sir Winston Churchill
Despite the initial challenges to my sensitive taste buds, I was left with a smooth rounded finish in my mouth and a satisfied, warm feeling of contentment. The rain stopped and a bright ray of sunshine shone down on this remote part of western Scotland. I was hooked!
When I heard there was a whisky distillery in the English Lake District, I was keen to find out more. The Lakes Distillery is the largest whisky distillery in England and one of its youngest, opening its doors for the very first time just three years ago in December 2014 in several beautifully renovated Victorian farm buildings, close to the river Derwent and overlooked by one of the Lake District’s highest peaks, Skiddaw.
Having parked the car I walked down to the main entrance to be greeted by some absolutely stunning wrought iron gates, specially commissioned then created by local craftsman and bespoke metalwork designer Alan Dawson to include the ingredients in the manufacture of their special liquid products.
“Alan interpreted the idea and made it buildable. The gates include our logo and depict the ingredients in our products; you’ll spot the grains we use – wheat and barley plus botanical ingredients of the gin: juniper, meadowsweet, angelica, heather and hawthorn.”
Paul Currie, Managing Director at the Lakes Distillery
The main barn now houses the mash and still house, with the distinctive and unique stills carefully designed to produce the spirits on a small artisan scale. An old cattle shed had been converted into a warehouse, with several other cattle sheds transformed into a large, light and airy Visitor Centre, a shop selling distillery products as well as locally produced goods and a delightful bistro and artisan bar.
Unfortunately I was visiting in the morning and had only recently enjoyed a satisfying Cumbrian breakfast so I did not sample the wonderful food or drink on offer in the Bistro but I was told by several people who had visited that the food had been excellent served in comfortable and relaxed surroundings. Overseen by nationally renowned chef and restaurateur Terry Laybourne, the casual bar and bistro seats a total of 130 guests both inside and out. On the day I visited several diners were sitting in the courtyard enjoying the hot summers day. The bistro also contains the distillery’s Board Room and a sophisticated private dining area for 30 people.
After checking in at the Visitors Centre I was told I had a little time before my tour started so I was encouraged to take a walk down to the River Derwent, passing by the friendly alpacas enjoying the stunning views. It was such a delightful and peaceful location from which I could sit and watch the river Derwent rushing past and then to look up and admire the stunning Lakeland scenery.
The tour started with an interesting video which followed the precious water used by the distillery from the River Derwent at its source at Sprinkling Tarn down through Keswick into Bassenthwaite Lake and Cockermouth then on to the Irish Sea at Workington.
The tour, which lasted about an hour was led by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide who was able to explain the magic processes involved in producing the whisky, vodka and gin. The distillery has still to produce its own single malt whisky which should be available to customers in 2018, after three years of maturation and under the expertise and caring eye of the Master Distiller.
The distillery is quite small so everything can be seen very easily including the two sparkling copper stills which had been manufactured in Edinburgh, the mash house and then on to the distillery’s warehouse where the whisky was maturing in the oak barrels. I noticed there was a can of Brasso at the ready to polish up the stills when necessary!
It was a very warm summers day and it was very hot close to the stills. I was happy to leave the distillation plant after a few minutes for the cooler temperatures of the store room. I was told by the guide that many of the barrels they use had previously been used for American Bourbon and Spanish Oloroso Sherry. The Distillery will continue to use the very best of traditional methods in the maturation of their spirits.
I was fascinated by the story of the `Angels Share`. As much as 25% of the spirit can be lost from the cask over ten years through natural evaporation, this is called the `Angels Share` which explains why older whiskies are more expensive to buy, there is obviously less whisky to bottle.
The Distillery is proud of the environment in which it is located and from its inception has set about protecting and preserving the heritage and community links which are so important to its growth. Its carbon footprint is also being reduced in a number of innovative and enterprising ways; Biomass boilers, burning fuel from sustainable sources and the draff, or barley waste, from the whisky production, is fed to local cattle.
“The light music of whiskey falling into a glass—an agreeable interlude.”
Not only that but the distillery also has its own on-site sewerage plant and recycled water is used for cooling the plant. An oil boiler is used to produce the steam required for the distilling process, and a biomass boiler is used for all other heating requirements, including heating the buildings and offices within the distillery, fulfilling its green credentials.
At the end of the tour I sat in the Tasting Room and sampling their very agreeable blended whisky, a pleasing gin and uplifting vodka, all products of the distillery. I loved the blended whisky, `One` so much that I bought a bottle to take home for further investigation, reflections and deliberations. What a great way to end the tour!
Whether you are looking for a souvenir of your visit or a unique present for a friend, the distillery gift shop offers a wide variety of local products to suit all tastes and pockets, such as glassware, clothing, blankets, toiletries and books as well as a wide range of confectionery made in their own kitchen, such as whisky and gin chocolates.
The Lakes Distillery is still very much in its infancy but all of the staff demonstrated a passion for their products and quite clearly enjoyed sharing that excitement and enthusiasm with those who visit. Everyone from the reception staff in the gift shop, the guides on the tour and Bistro staff all greeted me with a smile and a kind word.
If you are visiting the Lake District, now a World Heritage Site, ensure you call in and take a tour at the `Rising star` of the British drinks industry. On a hot summers day or a cold wet afternoon in Winter, the Lakes Distillery is well worth a visit at any time of the year.
The Lakes spirit has to spend three years and a day maturing in the cask before it can legally be called whisky so I am already looking forward to the day that the Distillery celebrates the opening of its first bottle of single malt whisky in 2018. It will be a huge celebration for the hard work, enthusiasm and passion of the entire team at The Lakes.
James Davis – The Travel Locker
“Whisky is liquid sunshine.”
George Bernard Shaw
Distillery Address: The Lakes Distillery, Setmurthy, Near Bassenthwaite Lake, Cumbria CA13 9SJ
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Facebook: The Lakes Distillery
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Bistro at the Distillery: email@example.com
The Lakes Distillery: Other details,
Facilities on site include Baby changing facilities, Children welcome, No fee on all credit cards, Disabled access, Disabled toilets, Disabled parking, Only guide dogs accepted, Groups and corporate hospitality, Gift shop, On-site catering, Public toilets, Smoking not allowed, Free car parking, Public Transport: Buses: Stagecoach, Penrith to Workington route on the X4.
Turn off A66 by Bassenthwaite Lake on to B5291. Continue on this road for 1 mile. At Ouse Bridge carry straight on (do not cross bridge). Distillery is of the right after 400m.
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