For many, 2021 evolved from a year of stagnation and staying at home to adjusting to life with Covid. For The Lakes however, 2021 evolved into the year of output and experimentation.
Back in 2020, the distillery started a new offshoot limited edition series called the Whiskymaker’s Editions via their Colheita release (see press release here and our tasting notes here). In 2021, that series picked up a new entrant via Harvey Nichols with the Le Gouter Edition launched in June, and then The Lakes went into overdrive (as far as new whisky offerings are considered): July saw the Miramar release through Master of Malt; September saw Bal Masque release through general sale; October saw Receurdo release initially via The Whisky Exchange, followed two weeks later by the Sequoia release in collaboration with Booths; November then saw the release of Liberty exclusively available online.
Something is working because each and every bottle has sold out. Quickly.
2022 seems to be picking up the pace too after a Christmas period “off”, as the Whiskymaker’s Editions saw the Forbidden Fruit and Mosaic releases being launched in February.
Each whisky in this series is limited to a relatively small number of bottles and has a focus on a different flavour, experience, mood, or element of the whiskies being matured near Bassenthwaite Lake. Each one emphasises a different cask type or influence on their spirit, whilst, at the same time, the Whiskymaker himself is focussing on creating that sherry-led signature malt for The Lakes.
For this post, I’m looking at the Bal Masque release from September 2021 (a bit late, I know).
For this Edition, Dhavall has captured an exponent which examines the influence of French oak casks. In his own words:
Typically, we use American, Spanish, and French oak to mature our whisky. With unlimited nuances in the way the wood is dried, toasted, and seasoned, each of the infinite variations has a different impact on the maturing spirit as it nurtures and transforms the whisky’s flavour and colour.
To create a sense of intrigue and seduction, with Bal Masque we used only French oak to mature the whisky. Working with French oak for primary maturation can be tricky in comparison to using American and Spanish oak, but the results can be quite fascinating.
When used exclusively, the abundance of tannins and wood extractives can create a beautifully seductive and mysterious character.
French oak adds a unique personality to the whisky by invoking complex notes of vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, and aromatic incense.
And here, we have used a complex combination of two different types of French oak; Quercus Petraea and Quercus Robur. Previously used as wine casks, Petraea’s fine grain brings sweet characteristics to the whisky, while Robur’s creates spicy and aromatic top notes.Dhavall Gandhi / The Lakes’ Whiskymaker
The press release and link is available here.
There are no further notes about what the French oak casks previously held, if anything, but what we do know is that their exclusive use is unusual to The Lakes and they have captured the final spirit at a hefty 54% ABV.
An explosion of berries and cherries shoot out of the glass. They’re joined by orange, figs, chocolate, caramel, honeycomb, and actual honey. There’s some seasoned oak in there, wood polish maybe, joined by classic oak spice, cinnamon, and cloves.
A host of warming, comforting flavours unravel here. Burnt toffee, cinder toffee, marmalade on toast, a little taste of coffee beans (including their bitterness). It is punctuated with a decent spice profile with nutmeg standing out. There is a strong oak flavour too – and I mean actual oak too, not just it’s influences or spices (though they are in abundance) but a good old oak flavour.
Crushed black peppercorn spice fizzles all the way down, and you are left with orange zest sweetness and cardamom warmth.
Well this is another hit, by my book. Everyone else seems to think so too as Bal Masque appeared to have sold out everywhere almost immediately. I’m grateful to have received a press sample, and was too late to the party to join in grabbing a big bottle, which I would be very tempted by.
The marketing blurb and set tasting notes talk about tannins and I maybe should have avoided the press notes before sampling this, but they are very present in this. In fact, it is the talk of the oak itself which may have influenced my notes the most, as this whisky has some strong oak notes to which I’ve commented upon in the nose and the taste and presumably the finish with those spices listed too – it has a richness and robustness without being too heavy going or claggy.
What I’m also learning from these latest Lakes releases is that Dhavall seems to be the master at hiding a whisky’s ABV! He is clearly not afraid to put content at high percentage to maintain the flavours and experience that he is having form the casks, and yet neither the nose, the taste, nor the finish would suggest that this is 54% ABV. The strength of the alcohol is really tempering the flavours at play.
I think that the whole concept of the Whiskymaker’s Editions series is clever. Not only does the consumer really get to know the flavours, profiles, and influences that are being generated at The Lakes, but you can collect and get involved with the journey that this still relatively young distillery is on. And people are collecting them too. I don’t think I’ve ever really witnessed a single distillery pumping out so many varieties of whisky in such a short period of time. And that brings in both loyalty and revenue.
At what stage we will see the actual signature malt being released by The Lakes is the question on everyone’s lips but until that time – and I don’t believe that it will be far away – these releases are proving to be insightful, entertaining, and – most important of all – delicious.
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.