That idea of distilling being distinct individual elements is not how a whiskymaker looks at the art. Rather it is part of a continuum, a net of possibilities where everything is interlinked. Change one element and the effect will change everything else. Only by understanding how flavours are created throughout the journey through the distillery will the whiskymaker fully comprehend the possibilities. That is why at The Lakes, unusually, Dhavall is actively involved at every stage. It is holistic whiskymaking.
It starts with choosing the barley variety and how it is malted. It was decided that The Lakes would not be a smoky whisky, so no peat is used. We have cold, pure from the river Derwent which, when heated, is added to the ground barley to give sweet wort. Here we can influence flavour. The slower you do this mashing, the fruitier the resulting spirit is going to be.
Under the whiskymaker’s guidance, the Lake’s fermentation process is pushed up to 96 hours, twice the industry average, to create the desired complexity and depth of flavour.
Distillation is also slow and long; the more contact the alcohol vapour has with the copper still, the more fruitier and vibrant the resulting spirit will be.
As with his unique spirit creation, the whiskymaker’s expertise in sherry casks has shaped whiskymaking at the Lakes, where, contrary to most contemporary distilleries’ use of ex-bourbon casks, 80-90% of the spirit is filled into different types of ex-sherry cask. Made from American, Spanish or French oak, in different sizes, the casks are seasoned with Oloroso as well as Pedro Ximenez, Cream and Fino.
The whiskymaker personally sources every cask from trusted suppliers in Seville. This sets the Lakes apart.
The whiskymaker knows each cask intimately; how the flavours are evolving and then how they can be blended with others to complement, enhance, deepen, broaden or contrast. They nudge against each other, some excited, some sulky, some diffident, the heavy and the light. It takes time, so the final hand-selected casks are allowed to marry together for up to a year before bottling, significantly longer than any other whisky. This creates depth, roundness and harmony, the final touch which makes it The Lakes whisky.
This cannot be done by computer or tick list. This is élévage – Cognac-inspired, flavour-chasing transfers of liquid between casks during maturation. This is the art of blending – the same alchemy of perfumers who make new scents by creating a pyramid of aromas with base, middle and top notes. Musicians do the same with melody and counter melody.
Blending is what we do unconsciously every day. We do it when we add milk or sugar to our tea or coffee, which themselves are blends. Blending makes things taste better. It is dynamic, it is creative, and expressive. It is also personal. At the Lakes, blending is a creative expression of ideas, emotions and feelings through the language of whisky. It comes from the heart.
Every artist will paint a landscape differently, just as every interpretation of a song will differ, each poem about a thing will be different.