Thursday, June 5, 2014

There's Liquid Gold In Them There Hills!

Whisky is enjoying an enormous boom worldwide. The distilleries from Lowlands to Highlands, from Islay to Orkney, are all struggling to keep up with a surging demand the likes of which has never been seen.

Countries with no established traditions of whisky-making have seen dozens of distilleries take root, ready to serve this growing demand. World whisky is a rising star. Having sampled some delicious specimens right here in the Manchester whisky club, I can confirm that whisky needn't be Scottish to be absolutely fantastic.

Whisky festivals and awards have been singing the praises of Australia's "Sullivan's Cove", the Amrut and Paul John whiskies from India, Sweden's Mackmyra, and so many more. Distilleries south of the border in Britain have confidently waded into the market with offerings like the excellent Penderyn whisky from Wales, and the English Whisky releases from Norfolk's St George's Distillery.

Meanwhile, on an old Victorian farm just north of Bassenthwaite Lake, something is stirring...

Soon, very soon, the sweet rising steam of stills will rise from the Lake District. Yes, folks, there will be a brand-new distillery right here in the North West - the fledgeling Lakes Distillery in Cumbria.

Cumbria actually has a well-documented history of whisky production throughout British history, much of it illicit (as is most whisky production historically through one era of prohibition or another). The tall peaks throughout the lake district receive a huge amount of rainfall every year (all those lakes were a bit of a clue!) and this makes it an ideal location for a distillery since the most important resource for making whisky is having a reliable water source.

With this in mind, Paul Currie set out to create a spirit that will do the Lakes proud. The Lakes Distillery is currently under careful construction with a view to running spirit off the stills before Christmas this year. The whisky will be in a highland style - sweet, floral and very slightly peated - and will be matured in high quality ex-bourbon and sherry casks. The distillery also have plans to experiment with casks and peat-levels in future.

Paul and his father set up the Isle of Arran distillery in 1995

Naturally, as lads from up North, it makes myself and SeƱor Duckworth very proud indeed that we're soon to see another English distillery drawing sweet delicious barley spirit off their stills. Like kids off to the seaside, we hopped in the car and hit the road for a visit.

A pleasant drive through the hills later, we were met by John Drake, the distillery manager, who gave us a run-down of his plans for the distillery: from the layout of the site, through to the operation of the washbacks, the stills, the water - the whole works in glorious geeky detail.

Hard hats on, John was even kind enough to give us a nosy around the building site and talk us through how it's all going to come together.

Across the lawn, towards the courtyard

John walks us through each part of the building - this will be the bistro

This will be the still house, featuring the distillery's specification copper stills

Kid in a sweet shop
So, exciting times ahead for whisky in the North West! The distillery currently have a blend available for sale which they put together themselves. "The One" contains a selection of different whiskies from across the British Isles and is very tasty indeed.

You can pick these up on the Lakes Website

Thanks for the tour, John - can't wait to see how things unfold!

- Sean & Andy

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