Whisky lover Stuart Brodkin heads to Cumbria to drink in one of England’s newest distilleries
A kiddush without a whisky is a bit like a football match without a goal – you might enjoy it, but you probably won’t.
Personally, I find a glass (or two) of Scotch helps me relax after a hard day staring at a computer screen.
In fact, I always remember that a former journalist colleague frequently told me that ‘there’s no such thing as a bad whisky’.
Well, he was an alcoholic, but that’s another story.
Anyway, as a long-standing whisky lover, I’m always more than willing to try out new versions. So it was no hardship to travel to the Lake District in chilly Cumbria to visit England’s newest whisky distillery – yes, you read that right, an English whisky producer.
The Lakes Distillery is situated in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.
It is overlooked by Skiddaw, the fourth highest mountain in Britain and, on the day my wife and I arrived, Skiddaw’s upper slopes were covered by a light dusting of snow.
Beneath Skiddaw’s 3,000ft peak lies Bassenthwaite Lake, one of the 16 lakes that make up the Lake District, one of Britain’s top tourist destinations.
The Lakes Distillery is the brainchild – some would even say the child, judged on his enthusiasm for the project – of Paul Currie, the distillery’s managing director.
The Currie family is steeped in whisky tradition in an industry in which tradition counts for a great deal.
Paul’s father, Harold, was managing director of Chivas Regal, one of the world’s best-selling brands and, now into his 90s, is still hale and hearty.
Harold brought Paul on board when he set up the Arran Distillery on the Isle of Arran in Scotland, which opened in 1995. “I’m sure most in the industry thought we were mad as there hadn’t been a new independent distillery set up for decades,” said Paul. “But, as we foresaw, the malt whisky market has gone from strength to strength and new distilleries have opened up all over the world.”
Now Paul has gone and done it again. But why the Lakes? “I think there is the strength of the brand – the Lakes as well as an idyllic setting and, perhaps most importantly, the water.”
It’s the River Derwent, which flows only about 150metres from the distillery, which puts the water into this particular Water of Life.
The river’s source is the aptly-named Sprinkling Tarn, the wettest place in Britain with an annual rainfall of about 5,000mm. According to Paul, the river’s water is “almost perfect” – a key factor in the production of a premier product.
The distillery has been built on the site of a former Victorian model dairy farm and, so far, Paul’s company has spent £5million on the project.
However, that sort of outlay has already begun to pay dividends with the distillery’s blended whisky, named The One, having already won two international awards before even a single bottle had been sold to the public.
The One is splendid blend with plenty of character and it, along with many other wonderful blends produced throughout the world, puts paid to those whisky snobs who only drink single malts.
As Jim Murray wrote in his annual and authoritative Whisky Bible: “It really is quite extraordinary how people the world over with refined palates and a good knowledge of single malts are so willing to dismiss blends out of hand.”
I’m told a Lakes’ single malt will be available in five to six years – and I’ve a feeling it will be well worth waiting for. In addition, the distillery produces vodka and gin, all with The One branding and all coming in their own distinctive rounded bottles.
Paul is aiming to make the distillery a ‘must-visit’ part of the Lakes, which hosts 15million tourists each year.
To that end, he is running regular tours of the distillery and has opened up The Bistro, a competitively-priced modern restaurant that is open for lunch and dinner.
As you’d expect, The One whisky is on the drinks menu at The Bistro alongside whiskies from as far afield as Tasmania and New Zealand. There are plenty of vegetarian options as well as a marmalade and whisky pudding with custard sauce for that ‘big finish’. And if you’re too full for a proper dessert you can try the handmade whisky truffles – using locally-sourced whisky of course!
We stayed at the lovely Armathwaite Hall Country House and Spa, just a short walk from the distillery, but an excellent, cheaper option is the Little Orchard bed and breakfast establishment, also close by, and run by the charming husband-and-wife team of Ann and Brian Reay.
All in all, the Lakes Distillery and its environs are well worth adding to your Lake District holiday itinerary.
The One may not be the Special One just yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time…