Faith, Hope, Luck and Love.
If ever there were four things to inspire those in the pursuit of whisky-making, I would suggest these are some fairly solid ones.
And it is those ideals that are underpinning the new Lakes Distillery, which is set near Bassenthwaite Lake in the stunning Lakes District. Why? Because all around the site on which is has been built, the team has come across more than 30 ancient quatrefoil designs of four leaf clovers, each leaf of which represents one of those things.
Founded by Paul Currie – who set up the Arran distillery alongside his father Harold – this latest of entrants to the English whisky scene is aiming to push boundaries and make use of the stunning natural surroundings of the Lake District.
The team, which includes former Diageo production director Alan Rutherford and master distiller Chris Anderson, alongside trainee distiller John Drake and Business Development Manager Katie Read, has already released The One (made from a blend of whiskies from the British Isles) and has begun production of its Lakes Gin.
And now, after years of planning, things are finally coming to a head for the main attraction: the whisky. All being well, the distillery will produce its first spirit from the whisky stills on the 22 November and begin another chapter for English whisky making.
I was fortunate to head up to visit the distillery in late August, when it was still very much in the building stage – a fascinating time to visit and a rare chance to see just what a distillery looks like before everything is ready for revealing.
Set on a former Victorian model farm, the distillery was long in the planning process since people in the region are very protective of the local landscape, Paul told me. In fact, his brother had tried years before to establish a distillery in the Lakes but failed when it got to the planning permission stage.
So, it was a bit of the four-leaf luck that saw this one through, Paul said, telling me that even on the day it went to the council he was sure it would be turned down. As it happens, the bid sneaked through and the excitement was huge: it is the first distillery in this region, which gets millions of tourists a year – two key selling points for any business owner.
While the farm had been derelict for 20 years, part of the agreement with the build was that everything would stay true to the roots of the architecture on site – meaning, a build as complicated as one you see on Grand Designs. The roof of each building had to be lifted off to lower in the equipment, and then put back in their original fashion and repaired to the original design.
The result – at least that I saw when it was in its early stages – was stunning, all old stone work buildings with peaked wooden roofs, surrounded by bright green hedgerows and thick, bushy forests.
Inside the main building, the four washbacks supplied from a brewery supplier called Musk sit at one end of the long hall, while at the other, it has two whisky stills (the 3.5k L spirit still called Susan and the 5.5k L wash still called Rachel) made by McMillan in Scotland, and a gin still (named Chemmy, after British world cup alpine ski racer, Chemmy Alcott, who is the gin’s ambassador). The plan is to do an 80-90 hour fermentation, and the distillery has put in a stainless steel condenser and a copper one so they can alternate between them and create different styles of new make spirit on the same stills.
“We’re going to have ‘mad March’ where we try lots of different things like a heavily peated style and a bourbon style,” Paul said.
When it comes to maturation, the team are also looking to go beyond the traditional American and European oak cask styles, and plans to use virgin oak, chestnut and maple, some of which will be made into smaller, 50L casks to speed up maturation.
Once tours begin, there are plans to make the first part of the visitor experience on the lower floor thoroughly modern, with an interactive flight simulator film that takes people around the local area and a 3D hologram of an old distiller, which will talk guests through some of the process.
The other big draw is to be a 70 seat bistro, which is being implemented by Michelin star chef Terry Laybourne, who is to create a menu that will rely on local ingredients but still be priced at an accessible point for visitors. Another private dining room that looks directly into the maturation warehouses was also being constructed when I was there and looked to create a thoroughly stunning experience.
And while it is still very early days for this latest whisky-making venture I am very excited to see where this outfit goes. With a founder whose background is already in whisky-making at Arran, and a formidable team, I have no doubt that this distillery is here to stay. As Katie (the Business Development Manager and recently interviewed Whisky Woman) told me during my visit, it is hard to not feel inspired when you’re surrounded by such lovely symbols as the quatrefoils dotted about the land.
“We have Faith in the project after putting in £5m to see it off the ground; we have Hope that we will produce a world class whisky; we look to have Luck in our work; and with have Love from everyone that is a part of this project.
“What we really want to do is celebrate the amazing place that is the Lake District – from the people to the water and the beauty. And we are so excited to be a part of this new modern whisky history and we plan to take that tradition and history, but give it the signature of today.”
For more information about the distillery, head to: www.lakesdistillery.com