The One for the road... ; In association with great pages of food and drink 7The One is the first ever British blended whisky from the UK's newest... [Newcastle Journal (England)]
(Newcastle Journal (England) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The One for the road... ; In association with great pages of food and drink 7The One is the first ever British blended whisky from the UK's newest distillery set in the heart of the picturesque Lake District. But will it be'the one'? Jane Hall finds out
MANY glasses of amber nectar - otherwise known as whisky - would have been raised to 2014 on New Year's Eve.
But few of the millions toasting the coming year with a glass or two of this magical alcoholic beverage would have had the luxury of doing so with a whisky produced by their own fair hands.
Paul Currie was one such lucky man. As the chimes of Big Ben rang out on the stroke of midnight to signal the start of 2014, the 49- year-old saluted the death of the old and welcomed in the new with a tumbler of The One, the first British blended whisky.
Bringing together whiskies from England, Scotland and Wales, the memorably named The One, is the inaugural drink to come out of Paul's new venture, The Lakes Distillery.
It launched on to the market in the autumn and has thus far been well received by the critics, with one describing the slightly smoky, sweet and fruity drink as a "really quality blend... crafted with obvious love."
It bodes well for what is set to be an exciting year ahead for Cumbria's first whisky distillery for over a century.
This spring will see distillation get under way on both a Lakes gin and malt whisky.
And come the summer, work should be complete on a new visitor centre, bar, bistro and shop at the distillery's picturesque headquarters overlooking Bassenthwaite Lake and the shapely ridge of the 3,000-plus foot high Skiddaw.
Once production is in full swing it will see the distillery housed in a secluded former Victorian model farm at Setmurthy seven miles from Keswick, producing up to 400,000 bottles a year each of both the blended and malt whiskies - although afi-cionados will have a few years' wait before they're able to savour the latter.
The Pounds 3m project will ultimately create 30 new jobs and could attract as many as 150,000 visitors a year to an area whose local economy is reliant on tourists attracted by the breath-taking natural beauty.
Paul, living on site in the grand farmhouse just a few steps away from the River Derwent, whose clean and peaty water will play such a vital part in The Lakes Distillery's story going forward, has by his own admission a lot to look forward to as he sees plans which have been three years in the making come to fruition.
He is confident of success, not in a naive, gung-ho way, but borne from the fact that whisky has always been a part of his life - his father was managing director of Chivas-Seagrams' - and he is a co-founder of The Isle of Arran Distillery set up as recently as 1995.
Paul left that behind to pursue other interests in the spirits world, but it's fair to say whisky runs through his veins.
So it was perhaps inevitable that he would one day open another distillery - although the Lake District wouldn't be top of most people's list of places to do so.
Whisky, thanks in part to some clever marketing north of the Border, is irrevocably linked to Scotland. But it's a drink that can be made any-where, and indeed England did once have its fair share of distilleries. Why they all shut is something of a mystery, but with demand for whisky surging globally (exports have risen by 87% in the last decade and reached Pounds 4.3bn in 2012), there has been a resurgence of distilling south of the River Tweed with businesses opening in East Anglia and London. While some sceptics may scoff at a Lakes' malt, Paul immediately saw the potential on a family holiday to the area. In terms of scenery and infrastructure, this part of Cumbria shares many qualities with Scotland. Then there is "the lakes, the peaty foothills, the pure air," Paul says. "I realised this really was perfect whisky country." So The Lakes Distillery. - of which he is managing director - was born, although it has been a fairly lengthy gestation; as long as the wait for that first sip of malt will be. It will have to sit in its bourbon and sherry casks for three years - the time it takes under EU law for fermented cereal mash to be recognised as whisky - before being bottled. Paul expects the malt, which he is confidently predicting will have a lightly peated taste, to be "really good" at five years plus. Hence the need to start bringing in some cash with The One, the gin and the visitors centre. There have been no shortage of investors willing to back the enterprise, and it turns out there is a strong North East link. The Lakes Distillery's chairman is Tyneside-based entrepreneur Nigel Mills, who is heading up the company's base in Gosforth, Newcastle. As the main city that Cumbrians look towards, tens of thousands of North Easterners heading to the Lakes every year and the region already emerging as the biggest market for The One, Paul says it made sense for The Lakes Distillery. to have its headquarters in Newcastle, leaving the Setmurthy site to get on with whisky production and catering for the hoped for visitors. Nigel will have a hand in this too, however. He owns The Trout Hotel in nearby Cockermouth and will be involved in the bistro and dining side of the centre.
The main hurdle Paul has had to jump was finding the right location. It had to have buildings that could take the stills, scope for development and be close to the right sort of water to provide the base for the malt. And with the Lake District being a National Park and the obvious planning restrictions that go with that, it also had to be a site where the existing structures could be utilised and any development sympathetically undertaken. It was, Paul states, "very tough. We looked at countless sites and spent days pouring over maps. We got lucky really when we found the model farm." He got lucky too when the parish council, DEFRA, Natural England, Cumbria Tourism and the Highways Agency all gave their support. Paul has g at he r e d together an expert team which includes Dr Alan Rutherford, a leading figure in the whisky industry, and master distiller Chris Anderson whose job it will ultimately be to create the perfect blend of grains and malt. There is, after all, only so much that nature can do to help the process. Chris comes from a long line of distinguished Scottish whisky distillers and began his own career at Caolila on Islay. He has also worked at Lagavulin before moving on to Dewars' distilleries, including Royal Brackla,
Aberfeldy, Craigellachie and Aultmore. Whisky, Paul says, "is oozing through his veins. He brings a wealth of experience to us and he will play the central role in creating the new Lakes Malt." They can be "80% certain" of how that will taste even before work begins on distillation thanks to the quality of the water and the type of malted barley used. It's the other 20% that will remain unknown, which will ultimately give the malt its character and which Chris will guide with his expert hand. Producing The One has been a slightly less painful process. An artisan blend, it is selling well both through The Lakes Distillery. website and at selected independent outlets, and there is hope that it will soon be available in developing markets like Russia, France and Spain. The gin to be made from Lake District botanicals, will hopefully strike a similar chord. Paul says despite the early problems finding a site, there was never any doubt that the distillery would be based in the Lakes. "In terms of the whisky, you need a location that is the brand, and the great thing about the Lakes is that it's known worldwide. And because we are looking at a long-term business it had to have the tourist element and it was very important that we had the bar and bistro. "With the Keswick area attracting around three million tourists alone a year, we will hopefully have a ready source of visitors we can attract to the bar and bistro and on to the distillery tours. "Eight per cent of all visitors to Scotland go on a distillery tour, which is amazing, and if we can get a fraction of that interest I will be happy. "
As well as the wonderful location the water is perfect and contains everything necessary for the distilling of the purest whisky." With his heart set on the romantic Lakes, Paul never considered basing himself elsewhere. And who can blame him, with Bassenthwaite Lake and the majestic view towards Skiddaw just a few seconds walk from his front door? It's a pity that long-awaited first sight and taste of the Lakes Malt will be longer in coming. But patience can be said to be a virtue in many walks of life, and it's something that Paul Currie has thankfully acquired over the years. And while there is still a lot of work to do, Paul's dream for The Lakes Distillery's at last starting to come true. He is optimistic that "2014 will be a vintage year for us".Now, that's certainly worth raising a glass of 'the water of life' to. The One is available to buy from www.lakes distillery.com. Prices start from Pounds 3.95 for a 5cl miniature. A 70cl bottle costs Pounds 29.95. The distillery is also offering membership packages.
'The lakes, the peaty foothills, the pure air; I realised this really was perfect whisky country
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