Situating the distillery here was the first part. Now the challenge was to make a whisky which reflected the place.
The Lakes has long been a crucible for creativity, a place in which the imagination can flourish. It isn’t preserved in aspic, a place of nodding daffodils and naughty bunnies, but a challenging place where questions can be asked, new ideas formulated, something which goes deeper than picture box prettiness.
Wordsworth returned here because it was the only place he could formulate his radical thoughts about poetry; his fellow poets joined him because in the wildness they found the Romantic ideal of the sublime that challenged conventional thoughts of beauty. It didn’t stop there, countless artists [names] writers [names] and musicians such as Richard Skelton have found in the Lakes a place where their vision can be fully manifested. It seeps into every word, note or brushstroke.
To make whisky is easy. To make a whisky which spoke of the Lakes was the challenge. You cannot force it into a lake-shaped mould. It must arise in its own terms.
This delicate balance between art and science necessitates being sensitive to what the distillery wants to do - for it is a living entity; how the climate affects the conversation between oak and air and spirit, and flowing new ideas around this frame.
Challenging convention doesn’t mean rejecting whisky’s heritage, but respecting it. If the whisky is to be Lakes, if it is to be ours, then it has to learn, take from experience of centuries, but also move it on in ways which are appropriate to this distillery. We have to take this model and interpret it our way. Every artist will paint a landscape differently, just as every interpretation of a song will differ, each poem about a thing will be different, each chef approaches the same ingredients in a different way.
In Dhavall Gandhi’s case it is the latter. He started his working life as far away from casks and flavour and creation as you can imagine in the world of corporate finance and strategy with Ernst & Young. “We’d be working anywhere in the world from Monday to Friday. Once we were in Kentucky on a Friday and we spent the weekend there. One of my colleagues was a whisky fan, so we visited every distillery!
“I remember sitting on the steps of Maker’s Mark and thinking where do I want my life to go? It’s this. It’s using mind, hand, and creativity. I took a big risk.”
What followed was a post graduate degree in brewing and distilling from Heriot-Watt University and after a spell working as a brewmaster at Heineken came the chance to join the whisky-making team at The Macallan. Here was his chance to focus on maturation (particularly ex-sherry casks) and blending.
The risk more than paid off when he joined us.