The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Editions: Liberty

I’ve tried to write about The Lakes a few times. I visited shortly after they opened and returned again a couple of years back, during which time it had changed to be almost unrecognisable. It’s a distillery that my opinion has changed about more than any other and with this latest release my opinion has shifted once again. Time to have a look at The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Editions: Liberty.

In the beginning

I’ll skip over the distillery’s history, as the early releases of The One blended whisky – its first product – soured many whisky fans including myself towards them.

Dhavall Ghandi and his trademark veterinary syringe, which he actually uses all the time and not only for photos

However, that opinion has generally been reversed since Dhavall Ghandi – formerly part of the Macallan blending team – appeared as whiskymaker (one word) and started putting out big, wine-cask-focused whiskies. It’s the distillery’s new house style and the foundation of its ranges.

Reserved?

The intricate gates at the entrance to the distillery.

The Lakes have released whiskies in four distinct ranges. The original Genesis bottling and the Quatrefoil Collection follow-up are long sold out and while they may have piqued interest in the distillery’s whiskies, it’s the two current ranges that have got people to drink the spirit.

They are similarly named but carefully different:

  • The Whiskymaker’s Reserve – a series showing off the distillery’s sherry-forward style
  • The Whiskymaker’s Editions – a series showing off whatever Dhavall wants to do. Within reason…

The Whiskymaker’s Reserve range is a numbered series of bottles, each focused around the sherry-heavy style that the distillery is now known for. I’m not generally the biggest fan of young spirit and big sherry, but the whiskies have been good and shown that Dhavall definitely knows how to play with casks and poke a spirit into being something tasty.

I even recorded a video about Edition 4:

The Whiskymaker’s Editions are something a little different.

Special Edition

If you speak to Dhavall Ghandi about whisky for more than a few moments, you can see that he is someone who has more ideas than he has time to work with. The Whiskymaker’s Editions are a chance for some of those to come to fruition. The distillery’s house style is sherry forward, and this is what you’d expect from a blender who cut his teeth at Macallan. However, the Whiskymaker’s Editions give Dhavall more space to play, both amplifying that expected style and moving beyond it.

This has not always been a success, with the releases in the range the most controversial since the bad old days of the original The One (itself a whisky that Dhavall has revitalised and transformed), but each has a purpose and an evocative name, two things you definitely need if you want to shift some units.

From the Cognac-inspired Recuerdo to the patisserie-focused Le Gôuter, they have mixed and matched cask types to create interesting flavours, with varying responses. I may be a sample size of one, but while I liked Recuerdo, I wasn’t sure of its similarity to Cognac, and Bal Masque was definitely too woody for me, and I am not the only one.

That all said, it’s good that they are experimenting. While big sherry-cask drams that hide the underlying spirit are popular, they are not enough to both create and maintain a distillery’s reputation – the cautionary tales of Glendronach and even modern Macallan have shown that you need a few more tricks up your sleeve.

The latest experiment in the range is maybe the biggest push so far.

Freedom of Expression

The newest addition to the Whiskymaker’s Editions is Liberty. And that’s pretty much all we know. Released without the dense, flavour-focused descriptions of the rest of the range, it is more elusive and secretive:

Free from the restrictions and influence of tasting notes and cask specifications it is a blank canvas for the drinker, and we invite you to follow our lead and embrace the liberty to experience and interpret this creation any way you please. Liberty and gusto for all!

At first, this felt like a cop out, but on further examination it’s probably the most daring of the range yet.

Firstly, it’s exclusively available from The Lakes website – they have not asked anyone else to take a punt on an undescribed whisky, keeping all the risk (and potential reward) to themselves. The lack of any description combined with the dedication to selling it themselves mean that only The Lakes faithful and lucky people like me (although, as I waiver on the edge of Ghandi fanboydom, I occasional slip into the faithful camp) will get to try it, and only few of us will do so without buying a bottle of our own.

The rest of the range has sold out quickly, but Liberty remains on the shelf a month after launch. They have pushed their audience (both fans of the whisky and those happy to make a buck from auction arbitrage) to the edge of what they are willing to accept, and I salute them for it.

The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Editions: Liberty

So, we have no information about the whisky other than its origin – The Lakes Distillery – its strength – 56% ABV – and its price – £85. Here’s what I reckon it tastes like:

Nose: Crunchy and spirit-forward – did Dhavall really make this? Freshly cut apples and unripe pears lead to blanched and sugared almonds. Grass at different stages of life follows: sweetly mulching hay, recently dried hay and freshly mown grass. Hints of tropical fruit develop: pineapple and just-ripe banana.

Palate: Creamy and sweet with a touch of spice building into cinnamon heat through the middle. Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and lemon posset. Vanilla cream and spiced sponge cake. Sharp and bitter notes develop: lemon pith and peel with a touch of char. Crunchy barley sugar notes sit at the back along with Granny Smith toffee apples.

Finish: More Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, followed by damp oak and char. Sweet nuts and candied lemon linger.

This is not like the others – it is relatively naked. I’ve tried The Lakes spirit matured solely in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, and it was not great: sharp, underdeveloped and more tequila-like than young whisky. However, Liberty has the rounded edges and development of a mature spirit, albeit with flashes of youthful exuberance, sharpness and simplicity. It reminds me of the crunchy 10-year-old Clynelishes that fly off the shelves at the moment – fruity but youthful, with a good whack of character.

Fortune favours the brave/bold

It’s brave, as it doesn’t lean on its casks quite as obviously as the rest of The Lakes’ whiskies. There is careful cask selection here, but it is to show off what lies beneath and show us that they are more than a one-trick pony.

Unfortunately, the trick in question – big, cask-heavy whiskies – is very popular, while distillate-forward drams with gentle oak influence often languish underappreciated due to their lack of bold immediacy, intensity and obviousness. I like a sherry monster, but I really like a boring refill cask that wraps a layer of soft spice around a fruity core.

I’m pleased to see that this whisky has appeared, and I now have to have a serious chat with myself and my wallet as to whether I’ll grab one. However, the slowness of its take up and the mumblings from The Lakes fans who like what the distillery usually does make me fear that this is not going to be a common style of whisky that we see from them. Probably best I grab one now, as I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to get another like it…

The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Editions: Liberty is available exclusively from The Lakes Distillery website – £85 for a 70cl bottle at 56% ABV.

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