“I love whisky. It’s feisty and fiery and bold, like me.” – Katie Read, Lakes Distillery
Katie Read is the Business Development Manager at the Lakes Distillery, the first whisky distillery in one of the most picturesque parts of England – The Lakes District – and one of the latest to be built in the UK.
In this Whisky Women interview, she speaks about how she fell in love with whisky, what her background in tourism will bring to the role and why working in whisky is the best job she’s ever had.
How did you first get into whisky?
I’ve always been a girl who loves single malts and blends. My parents introduced us to wine and fine spirits and taught me to appreciate quality, something which has stayed with me. I’ve created memories and experiences of great things in my life with single malt – it prompts memories. I have a malt for a season or event, but I’m still waiting for my signature malt which I know will be The Lakes Single Malt.
And how did the role with the Lakes Distillery come about?
I was first introduced to The Lakes Distillery when I attended the launch of The ONE, our unique blend of British whiskies, at Taste Cumbria in September 2013. I thought this was a great combination of my three passions – whisky, the Lake District and amazing people: perfect!
What inspires you the most about the drink?
I love whisky. It’s feisty and fiery and bold, like me. Its whole character, its depth – it’s ‘that’ moment a dram of whisky creates where you anticipate the flavour and the warmth of spirit as it’s drunk. There’s a hush when a bottle of whisky is opened, you really don’t know what exactly is in the bottle until you taste it. You can look at a bottle of whisky, read the tasting notes and notice the colour, but that doesn’t tell you anything about the aromas or the taste or the memories you’ll get from it – it’s your personality and the exact situation which brings out the final flavour. We all bring something to each glass of whisky we imbibe.
You previously worked in the tourism industry – how are tourism and whisky linked?
We don’t often talk about green infrastructure, instead focusing on the grey roads and buildings. It’s easy to take the natural environment for granted, but it’s an amazing playground. Money going into bio-diversity must have an economic driver – the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, and now the distiller. Like tourism, whisky is evocative of the place you’re in and the people you’re with. Whenever you visit somewhere, you create a moment in time – what better way to savour this moment than with a special drink created using local ingredients. Food and drink really does bring out the passion of people.
You’ve come on board at the Lakes Distillery just as it is getting off the ground – how does it feel to be involved from the start?
This really is an opportunity in a lifetime. I’m part of a team creating a unique moment in English whisky history – a spirit I’m passionate about and in a place I love. It’s not like going to work, it’s a privilege.
What do you think the new distillery will bring to the region?
We’re really showing what a rural destination can achieve – welcome to Cumbria Plc! We’re an integral part of the local economy and will be expecting to attract 55,000 visitors per year when we’re open. We’re already an ambassador of the region exporting The ONE to Europe and beyond and when production begins in November we’ll become England’s largest whisky distillery, at capacity producing a million bottles of The Lakes Single Malt each year, in addition to The Lakes Gin and The Lakes Vodka. We will become part of the Lake District heritage, proudly raising our hand to say ‘we are the Cumbrian’.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your work?
I am immensely proud of my move from tourism into sales and I still smile thinking of my first UK sale. I love meeting spirit buyers and seeing them enjoy our product to an extent they are proud to display our brand on their shelves. Magic.
Do you think more women could or should be involved in the world of whisky?
Definitely. Women are passionate, like spirits. We’re really good at nosing and tasting, and getting those subtle notes from the whisky. The alchemy of distilling fascinates me – how you can go from raw ingredients to making something that reminds you of real experiences, memories and times. I’m an absolute advocate of lady distillers – the ‘boys club’ barrier is a thing of the past!
Why would you recommend someone to embark on a career in the whisky world?
Whisky is pure excitement: it’s passion, it’s a dedication and you learn something new every day. All spirits are individual, like the people who make them, which comes through in the taste. Working in whisky has really enriched my life – this is the best job I’ve ever had.
Desert island drams: What three would you take with you and why?
Difficult question! I couldn’t possibly narrow it to three – I associate whisky with experiences and memories, so it would depend on the desert island. Definitely on the list would be:
The Lakes Distillery’s British blend, The ONE which has a personal affinity, and The Lakes Malt which I dream of – if I had it on my desert island I would be instantly transported back to Cumbria;
Mackmyra , Swedish Whisky, which reminds me of pear drops and crispy green apples;
Teeling: Irish, small batch blended whisky, smooth, toffee apples – just autumn in a glass.
What is one of your favourite memories involving whisky?
Whisky is evocative and has been central at some of the most memorable moments in my life – the most brilliant sun rises and sets, having a shot in your coffee to warm you after a 6am surf in Cornwall, and many more.
It’s the pop of the cork, the pouring, the chink of the glasses and then the conversation that follows. Our lives are so busy that enjoying a whisky makes this the time to stop and listen.