Day one of our trips to Scotland started as usual, with us getting on the boat from IJmuiden to Newcastle. A rather rough night at sea but somehow we got some sleep and arrived semi on time at the harbour in Newcastle.
Quickly off the boat, we headed West onto the boring A69. At the Brampton bypass we decided to have our GPS guide us and took the A689, leading us through Carlisle, enjoying great vistas and luscious sceneries while driving.
One could also be more adventurous and decide to avoid the main roads, abandon all hope and take a spaghetti of single lane roads through the “prettiest area of England”, or be even less adventurous as we were and take the (slightly longer) M5 and A66 route from Carlisle. Eventually one should be able to get to the target of this trip’s first stop at the Lakes distillery, which is well indicated and easy to find once you reach the general area.
The distillery is built in a defunct Victorian Dairy farm near Bassenthwaite Lake in the North of the Lakes District National Park, close to the remnants of the Hadrian Wall and the borders with Scotland. The area is well known for its abundance of lakes and beautiful hill sides, rich Roman and Viking history with mines, mills, abbeys, monasteries, ancient carvings, cairns and standing stones. The beautiful bistro at the distillery allowed us to stretch our legs and eat a bite, before we made ourselves known to distillery manager John Drake, with whom we had made an appointment.
Walking around the place, we quickly get a good vibe of the small “manumatic” distillery, where the entire process is controlled by hand, double checked by modern technology to guarantee consistency. Designed from scratch, every cable, valve, pipe and container is located at the place it is meant to be. One tonne English barley is mashed in a semi-lauter mashtun which feeds her clear wort into one of the four 5.000 litres stainless steel washbacks, that use dried yeast to ferment for 70-90 hours each, before being offered to the small 2000 litre McMillan wash still, nicknamed “Susan”.
Spirit still “Rachel” has a capacity of only 1.500 litres, and both stills are heated with steam coils. Each still has a double set of shell and tube condensers; the standard copper variant and a stainless steel variant, which are interchangeable. This gives the distillery great flexibility in spirit character if they ever would want or need this. Until now they have not yet seen the necessity to do so, since their single malt new-make spirit is top-notch, and exactly where any new distillery would want it to be.
To secure income, the distillery has set up a Visitor’s Centre with a great bistro, are producing their own Gins and Vodka and “the ONE” blended whisky, which is produced without their own spirit. The Gins and Vodka run in small batches from English wheat in an even smaller still of 1.000 litres nicknamed “Chemmy”, who wears a reflux jacket around her neck with cold water running through, allowing longer distillation runs and purer distillates. Since the end of 2014 the distillery is producing their very promising single malt new make spirit. As many new distilleries do, Lakes is experimenting with different cask types such as ex-Port and Californian ex-Cabernet Sauvignon casks which are looking very promising, but they have already decided that their spirit works brilliantly with ex-Bourbon casks.
A small and passionate team is at work in the distillery using methods that work best from previous experience in the industry, in combination with thought through experiments, taking calculated risks along the way. In the long run, with time, patience and the faith, hope, luck & love of the more than 30 quatrefoil clovers found throughout the buildings, we will definitely see more than one great products from the distillery and her people, who are aiming for a quality product with a small carbon footprint.
After this great visit and a walk around the site for a couple of photographs, it was time to go en route towards Wishaw via the M6 and A74, where we would enjoy a romantic dinner for two on our first night off the boat brilliant #whiskyfabric dinner at the Artisan and meet up with thirty-odd whisky-minded people and share a dram or two (-ish).