The Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1 represents the first release in a new series of whiskies from The Lakes Distillery. The whisky is intended to offer the drinker an insight into the distillery’s new sherry-led direction under the guidance of their own Whiskymaker, Dhavall Gandhi (whose Twitter handle just happens to be @Whiskymaker!) The limited first run of 5,922 bottles has been made from a combination of “meticulously sourced” red wine and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks, and has been bottled full-on at cask strength of 60.6% ABV.
Very fresh and lively. Autocorrect made that ‘lovely’, and it is, to be fair. Nice burst of zest and raisin/currant flavours once that fearsome nice prickle has fizzled out. Those flavours then mellow out to more of an orangey flavour after a minute or two and strength of the nose really drops off with time – you would not believe that this is 60.6% ABV after it has had a chance to breathe. There’s a little smell of heather in there too (even if it isn’t Scottish). It really becomes quite delicate after a few mins despite that initial billow of furry fumes. Good sherry oak smells amongst the brighter fruits.
The touch on the tongue rounds out the orange flavours and juicy raisins now and the oak itself comes out to play. It has a strong oak flavour in fact, despite its (relative) youth and the woody flavour makes way for cinnamon and clove spices to come out.
That alcohol count really kicks in on the way down! The oak spices add to the fire and it really sizzles all the way down with those initial fruity flavours now left for dust. Moderated with a dose of water though and the finish does ease up and offers more of a marmalade flavour and syrupy texture.
An eye opener, an enjoyable malt and a welcome chance to take part in The Lakes’ quest for a signature style. The juicy fruits and complexity of the hard-hitting malt are really tasty in their own right and great markers for what lies ahead. The name “Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1” is packed with implication. Firstly, the emphasis on the work of Dhavall Gandhi and the brands’ reliance on his super-tasting skills (a truly enviable position – see our previous notes on a meeting with Dhavall). Secondly, the reference to “reserve” suggests a fleeting appearance of the release [albeit the whisky market has several regular “reserves”, though unfortunately some of which have proven to have been substandard, in my opinion, and did raise alarm bells when I first saw the whisky’s name, if totally honest]. Finally, the reference to this being “No. 1” suggests two things: the inevitable sequel and, as with The Lakes’ other single malt releases, another nod towards collectibility. In fact, the No. 2 bottling was released within days, due to popular demand. I find their choice of releasing it at cask strength very interesting too, as you do get closer to the spirits that they are dealing with as they develop/discover what will be The Lakes’ signature flavours and ‘house style’. What it also represents as a drink in its own right, is a sherry-led bruiser, that reminds me of a slightly younger and fresher version of an Aberlour A’bunadh or a Glenfarclas 105. The price point for the No. 1 is at the higher end of the scale when compared to these seasoned players though, at roughly £64 a bottle. To me, that is still a staggeringly high figure for a whisky that is less than 5 years old, but the question of prices for The Lakes is a well mooted point, and this does represent the distillery’s first single malt below 3 figures at least. The marketing however is clearly aiming for elegance and the distillery appear to have taken Jurassic Park’s Richard Hammond style of “spared at no expense” approach to creating a premium product. Let’s face it, the packaging and motifs are as classy as hell. Even the sample packaging is on fleek. I am still surprised that there is not a stronger marketing emphasis on The Lake District itself or the distillery’s heritage, but the transparency on provenance and their journey is refreshing and clearly their sights are set on this being a global, high-end product. To this drinker, this whisky certainly does represent another step in that direction. You just need to add water to taste.
Sample disclosure: This whisky was reviewed from a sample received as part of a marketing promotion directly from the distillery. All notes are intended as an honest, fair and independent review of the whisky itself and not as a promotion.