Like a lot of people who are into their whisky, I like transparency from a distillery. It’s not just a whisky nerd thing either as I think that, on some level, we would all appreciate the details about what exactly we are eating and drinking. When it comes to whisky, I like to know about both what is in my glass and what the distillery are doing. Both of those boxes are truly ticked by The Lakes Distillery. We’ve posted about them numerous times before (see here) and the Whiskymaker’s Reserve series is creating a form of time capsule collection of their progress to what will become the signature single malt whisky from the distillery.
The future of the distillery feels like it is placed very firmly in the hands of their ‘Whiskymaker’ Dhavall Gandhi and what a safe pair of hands that is turning out to be. In September 2019 the distillery launched their first Whiskymaker’s Reserve release: the starting point on a publicly available chronicle on their mission to craft their signature malt. Release No. 2 quickly followed in October 2019. We had to wait a little longer though for the next releases to come out with No. 3 being released in June 2020 – a spin-off series of Editions was then released in September 2020 with the Colheita – and No. 4 having recently launched in April 2021. Each release has given details of the cask maturations involved and as they construct their malted framework, I’ve sampled releases No. 3 and No. 4 together to taste and enjoy individually and then compare and contrast to see how that progression is working in the following drample double trouble.
Whiskymaker’s Reserve No. 3
Weighing in at 54% ABV, this single malt is comprised of The Lakes’ spirit that has been matured across a variety of PX, Oloroso, Cream Sherry, and red wine casks. More details here.
Some well sherried oak smells come out at first with raisins, cherries, fruitcake, brown sugar, sticky toffee and ginger all in there. There’s a dark chocolate flavour in there too with a bit of something in it: chilli chocolate maybe.
This is delivering up a delicious whole mouth tingle of oak spice – stem ginger and cinnamon in particular – with a silky sweetness of dark toffee, boozy raisins, a handful of different red fruits and a thick slice of buttery bara birth – served in the proper welsh style with a thick coating of butter! In fact the baking notes are really shouting out to me and, with that oak spice lingering, I’m thinking Jamaica ginger cake.
A rich but superbly balanced interplay of gingery baking spice and that buttery bara brith / fruit cake sweetness, with some final drying oak profile.
F me that’s good. If this becomes their norm then I’ll take it. I think a lot of people would. Gladly. What’s crazy is that despite being at 54% ABV I didn’t even consider adding water to it – it has a great balance. To me, this is what a rich and well matured Sherry cask whisky tastes like. Thinking about the fact that their first distillate ever made was back in 2011, this whisky still tastes more mature than most 10 year old “Sherry bomb” whiskies that I’ve tried. Maybe it’s the youthful spirit that keeps it all fresh and alive. Whatever the alchemy is, this is a fantastic drop in its own right.
Whiskymaker’s Reserve No. 4
Coming in at a slightly lower percentage that’s the No. 3 release, but by no means a light weight, this 52% ABV single malt has been made from The Lakes’ malts that have been aged across a combination of Oloroso, PX and red wine casks, comprising Spanish, American and French oak.
Sherry is king (again). Red grape sweetness and juiciness with a raw honey and slightly heathery floral flavour. It’s got quite a perfumed note to it that brings beeswax to mind. There’s a vanilla sweetness that brings creme brûlée to mind and it’s got a touch of the Harvey’s Bristol cream about it.
Croissants are the first things that come to mind. With marmalade on/in them. It’s buttery, it’s juicy – I’m avoiding zesty here as it doesn’t really zing or have that citrus bite – and it’s come fresh from the bakery. There is a nice and light nuttiness to it too. Usually when I think nutty flavours in whiskies I’d opt for hazelnut or almond but this is more cashew or a macadamia or even pistachio flavour. There’s some baking spices here too but it’s all very much superseded by the sweeter flavours.
That is one damn creamy finish. They describe it as “a velvet-cream finish” and it’s hard to think of a better descriptor. This is 52% and it’s slipped on down like water off a duck’s back.
This is potentially lethal. But I’d die happy. It’s flavourful and sweet but the fact that it is over 50% alcohol just stealthily passes you by. It’s remarkable. I’ve had harsh 40%ers before and cask strengths that hit you right between the eyes, but the body and texture of this just slips on down like a milk chocolate caramel barrel. I’m sure that there is a better analogy that I could use but that is a definite note.
Double Trouble: The Compare and Contrast
The No. 4 is definitely sweeter, lighter, more perfumed, more nutty, and a little bit more floral. Going back and forth between them and the plain chocolate note in the 3 is more noticeable. Slightly bitter compared to No. 4’s more milk chocolate flavour. Those baking spices underlie both but they are are more present in the No. 3.
We are talking big sherried whiskies here so it’s the supporting flavours that distinguish them. In terms of fruity flavours the No. 3 is all about raisins whilst for No. 4 it is grapes. No. 3 has a raw and floral honey vibe to it whilst the No. 4 losses the floral element but ramps up the sweeter part of the honey profile. Like honey nut cereal. Texture-wise the No. 3 feels like it is much drier and boozier in the mouth whilst the No. 4 becomes more like melted ice cream. What’s mad is that in hindsight, I was saying that the No. 3 was balanced when drinking it on its own and then, when compared to the No. 4, it seemed fiery and fuller in flavour.
When it comes to the finishes, the No. 3 is all warmth, good vibes and satisfaction, but the No. 4 is just like a dessert [ed: sure it warms – it’s 52% – but it barely leaves a trace just a reminder of a sweet treat just gone by.]
I will repeat what I said in the review of the No. 1 release here which is to say that The Lakes has this John Hammond from Jurassic Park feel to it: not the terrifying roaming dinosaur part but the “spared at no expense” bit. The packaging on the full size bottles screams high quality and class, but even the (decent-sized!) samples containing note cards with embossed gold reflective font and logos are just really well thought out and reflect the passion and high high high quality that is coming out from the distillery. They have started as they mean to go on. Also in Jurassic Park, Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) drops the line: “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”. Here, they definitely should. And Dhavall very much seems like a scientist in his approach.
The next questions are: when does No. 5 come out? And when is “IT” ready? By which I mean, which of these recipes will become the final actual The Lakes Distillery single malt? I’m assuming there’s going to be another Editions release first and then maybe a No. 5 to complete this series, (I’m placing my bets on a red wine cask only release for the Editions – you heard it here first!).
Though we have seen the photos of Dhavall in front of dozens of samples in his lab, I really hope that they don’t overkill it. Even “No. 6” sounds like a stretch doesn’t it? Let alone No. 7 or No. 8. An end needs to be in sight. That all sounds quite negative though, but in a more positive slant, I wonder if there is much more room for growth? I’m not sure that there is to be honest but I’m excited to find out. With these great options becoming available, I wonder if the more of these releases that there are then the harder it will be to decide on the final one. If you could get the No. 3’s flavours and overall profile but with the No. 4’s creamy finish, I think you’d have a winner. Truth be told, I had a tiny slither of each left and, whilst probably sacrilege, I blended them together [ed: Making a No. 7?] and got both that stronger ginger spice body from the No. 3 and that silky No. 4 finish and I was one pretty happy customer.
So where do they go from here? I never got to taste the No. 2 but my notes from the No. 1 were pretty small glowing already, so with the notes above I think we are in a very good place for The Lakes’ sherry-led future.
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. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.