The origins of whisky are clouded in the mists of time. The name whisky actually comes from the Latin 'Aqua Vita' (water of life), and in ancient Scottish Gaelic 'Uisge beatha'.
It does tend to rain a lot in The Lake District! Nearby Upper Borrowdale is reputed to have the highest levels of rainfall in England. It is fortunate for us that a great deal of that rainfall finds its way into the River Derwent, from which we draw our water.
The river flows 25 miles from its source near Sprinkling Tarn, through peaty fells, on through Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake, then literally past our door and onto the sea at Workington, 14 miles away from the Distillery.
The Derwent is a ‘spate’ (very fast flowing) river, at the whim of the weather. All that rain makes it one of the fastest flowing rivers in Europe ensuring the waters of the Derwent are continually filtered and flushed through.
Purity of the water is critical to the quality of our spirit. Turbidity (clarity) is a key indicator - 0 is perfection, 100+ is not good. Our readings over the last months have been 0.6, 0.4, 0.5 - as close to perfection as it gets.
Only barley is used to make Single Malt Whisky. Other grains such as corn, wheat or rye are used to make what is known as grain whisky.
As with all of our source elements, we wanted our barley to be as local as possible, so it wouldn't have to travel too far. Our barley is of the 'Concerto' variety and is grown in the Borders, and our maltsters are based in Yorkshire across the Pennines - making this truly a product of the north of England.
Our malted barley is ‘unpeated’, low in nitrogen and high in starch. It is the starch in the barley that converts into soluble sugars for fermenting into alcohol and subsequent distillation into whisky. Our malt and distilling set-up produces a delightfully ‘light’ spirit.
Beautiful though our restored Victorian model farm is, it did pose us a few problems! None more so than the ceiling height of the barn chosen to house the all-important stills. No ‘off the peg’ solution for us. Our stills had to be made to measure.
We turned to the foremost makers of copper stills and condensers in the world, the internationally renowned Archibald McMillan Ltd. Based in Prestonpans just outside of Edinburgh, McMillan's have been making whisky stills since 1867, so we were safe to assume they'd do a good job. And a ‘good job’ is a little bit of an understatement. The wash still, spirit still and smaller pot still used for making our gin and vodka fit like a glove. Functionality is one thing, however it is their sheer beauty that raises our stills to a higher level, to an art form. They are truly a sight to behold.
The mashtun, washbacks and other vessels are made by Musk, one of the leading suppliers to the very best of the brewing industry. Though the distilling process is very much a traditional one, the Lakes Distillery has installed state-of-the-art technology to ensure our spirits are of the very highest quality. Find out more about our hardware or watch the video on the arrival of our stills:
Making whisky is essentially a very simple process. However, our intention was never simply to make whisky. Our vision was to make a 'world-class single malt whisky'.
Firstly, to help steer our ship, we enlisted Dr. Alan Rutherford OBE, former head of production at Diageo and a leading, much respected figure in the whisky world. Then to create and craft our spirit, we indulged in a spot of ‘cross-border raiding’ (it’s been popular in these parts for hundreds of years!). We brought Master Distiller Chris Anderson from Scotland to the Lake District. Chris has a lifetime of experience making the highest quality whisky. He began his career on Islay and also plied his trade at Lagavulin before becoming manager of the John Dewar distilleries, including Royal Brackla, Aberfeldy, Cragellachie and Aultmore.
Along with Managing Director Paul Currie, who, with his father had launched the much acclaimed Arran distillery some years before, we truly put together a whisky-making ‘Dream Team’.