How The Lakes Distillery Made the World’s Best Single Malt
Heard of The Lakes Distillery? Well, the whisky world has. The distillery has cleaned up at the most prestigious international awards shows and took out the highest accolade you could get: world’s best single malt. And the distillery’s first whisky release smashed a world record. It’s time to get know the folks at Lakes and find out just how you make the world’s best single malt.
A new distillery is born
Founded in 2011 by Paul Currie and perched inside a formerly a run-down Victorian model farm, The Lakes Distillery is near the Scottish border on the edge of the famous Lake District, a nature reserve that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That makes the Lakes Distillery the only to straddle such a remarkable location. Currie, who worked in Scotch whisky, would always return to holiday in England — of course, at the Lakes.
Currie, along with his father Harold ‘Hal’ Currie, founded Isle of Arran Distillers in 1995. At that time, it was the first new independent whisky distillery in Scotland for many decades and the duo is credited for the revival of whisky distilling on Arran.
”Whisky was a part of my life from birth, and I remember at a very young age visiting distilleries and being entranced by the gleaming copper stills,” Curry told WhiskyCorner.co.uk. ”There is something magical about a distillery, and to me they are still as wonderful now as when I was young.”
Currie established a formidable team and armed the distillery with personnel behind the world’s best whisky, originally including ex-Macallan whiskymaker Dhavall Gandhi, an innovative biochemist and Alan Rutherford, former production director at Diageo.
In July of 2015, Princess Anne formally opened the distillery. Since its official opening, the distillery became one of the top 10 visitor attraction distilleries in the UK and saw 100,000 visitors pouring through the distillery every year. In 2016, the distillery was awarded a Distillery Masters Award in the category ‘Best Distillery Facilities.'
The distillery auctioned off the first 99 bottles of its inaugural single malt whisky, The Lakes Genesis, and set a world record while they were at it.
The very first bottle broke the world record for the most expensive whisky from a new distillery, and the most expensive bottle of English whisky sold at auction, going under the hammer for £7,900, or $15,290.
The rest of the bottles were sold at a landmark average price of £900 per bottle — that’s around $1,700 a bottle. “This is a historic moment demonstrates that The Lakes single malt whisky is a credible alternative to whiskies from the world’s established distilleries,” Currie said.
Enter stage left: Sarah Burgess
As an eighth generation Speysider and Aberlour native, Sarah Burgess has probably got whisky in her blood.
“I thought when I was growing that it was normal to be surrounded by distilleries, and that everywhere in the world was like that,” she told Luxe Society Asia. “It probably wasn’t until I got a bit older and started to travel and go to different places I was like – so where are the distilleries here?”
Burgess has 25 years' experience in the whisky industry. For two decades, Burgess managed the Oban, Glenkinchie and Clynelish distilleries for drinks juggernaut, Diageo. From there, she took up the reigns of lead whiskymaker for one of the most revered distilleries on the planet — the mighty Macallan.
Burgess made whisky at The Macallan for close to five years, where she helped develop The Macallan Genesis — a collaboration with internationally acclaimed architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners celebrating the distillery’s whiskymaking process; The Macallan Edition No. 5 — a collaboration with the Pantone Color Institute that celebrates The Macallan’s commitment to natural colour; and The Macallan Sir Peter Blake— a limited release to commemorate Sir Peter Blake’s visit to The Macallan Estate on the legendary River Spey.
Her love of Speyside led her to create a luxury collection for The Craigellachie Hotel, one of the world’s oldest whisky hotels, where she led the creation of The Craigellachie Collection, a range of spirits and sodas that tell the story of Speyside and launched at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.
Sarah takes the reigns
In January 2023, Burgess was appointed whiskymaker for the Lakes Distillery, taking over the helm from Dhavall Gandhi.
“I was intrigued by The Lakes as a new distillery but one creating such high-quality whisky,” Burgess said. “I am excited to be part of a new and innovative operation and I am sure between my creativity and the quality casks we have in maturation that many great whiskies will follow.”
And so they did.
The world’s best single malt
In 2019 The Lakes released their first in a seven-part series of Whiskymaker’s Reserve single malts, which were received with acclaim.
The inaugural release scored 95/100 from the International Wine & Spirits Challenge in 2020, while No. 2 was awarded gold at the International Spirits Challenge in the same year.
And then in 2022 The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No. 4 won Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards, catapulting the distillery’s reputation onto the world stage. With a panel of leading international journalists, specialist drinks retailers and industry experts, award judging was held in two rounds, with round one seeing a panel made up of international and leading journalists, specialist drinks retailers and industry experts taste each whisky before selecting the Category Winners.
Chosen from hundreds of entries, being crowned Category Winner for Best English Single Malt (No Age Statement) meant The Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.4 advanced to the global competition to be compared head-to-head with 24 winners from Japan, Scotland, the US and more.
“To be a finalist alongside hugely respected global brands such as Glenmorangie, Bunnahabhain, Aberlour (and) Kavalan is a credit to the hard work and sacrifices of everyone who has played a part in building The Lakes Single Malt from a derelict Victorian farmstead into a respected whisky found in some of the world’s leading bars,” said the Lakes commercial director Kirsty Taylor.
Raising a winning whisky
Around 80% of whisky at The Lakes sees Sherry cask maturation, and the team follows the élevage process inspired by Cognac’s cellarmasters. The literal translation of élevage is ‘rearing’ or ‘raising’. Lakes Distillery describe it as their “multi-cask, multi-Sherry” program.
Instead of the more traditional method of leaving the spirit in a single cask, with or without time spent in another cask for a second maturation, Burgess is proactively involved in every whisky throughout its ageing process. She regularly reassesses the progression of each individual cask and may move the spirit to a new cask type, location, climate depending on its flavour development. Casks are even blended at various stages to layer flavours and complexity further at every stage. Once deemed mature, each whisky is married for up to year prior to release, to develop a harmony of flavour.
”Our whiskymaker knows each cask intimately; how the flavours are evolving and how they can be blended with others to complement, enhance, deepen, broaden or contrast,” says the distillery. “Our whiskymaker is actively involved at every stage. It is holistic whisky-making.”
We’re thrilled to bits to bring Members Lakes Voyage, a special one-off release from the award-winning Lakes Distillery's highly sought-after Whiskymaker’s Edition series, created exclusively for The Whisky Club and officially marks the inaugural release for The Lakes Single Malt down under. It’s an absolute masterwork and you can taste Sarah’s expertise in every viscous sip. But like we said, it was made exclusively for our Members. If you want to get your hands on a bottle, join the Club free now.