Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: December 2014

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Advent whisky and vodka calendars: windows 19-24

Another adventurous advent reaches its boozy crescendo!


Timorous Beastie, 46.8%
Colour: Pale straw
Nose: Cereals with a sweetness of toffee, dry notes of sherry and strong sea breeze.
Palate: Sticky fruits and lightly spiced with a bold peat hit, with an essence of a mashtun in the form of toasted yeasty grain.
Finish: Winter spice that hangs around for ages all over the mouth and the peat stays up in the forefront.

Breckenridge, 40%
Created at the world's highest distillery in Colorado, this is a clean, crisp and refreshing vodka, which I found a really good combination of traditionally flavoured but with a quirky slightly medicinal twist of pine and a hint of floral perfume. Interestingly, this is made from snowmelt water, and you can almost taste the icy environment! Another thing I've discovered this month whilst tasting such an array of top-quality vodkas is the importance of choosing the right tonic - I paired this with my new favourite, Peter Spanton No. 1, which brought forth more sweetness from the Breckenridge.


Girvan Grain Patent Still: No. 4 Apps, 42%
Colour: Pale sand
Nose: Fresh and grassy with hints of apple.
Palate: Refreshing lemon oiliness with light oak and a hint of chocolate for balance.
Finish: Very light - not quite enough oomph for my liking, but a gentle peppering with a smooth fruity finish.

Finlandia Grapefruit, 37.5%
This was a revisiting of an old favourite... one of the first quality spirits I ever treated myself to a bottle of! I still find this absolutely delicious, with vibrant aroma and flavour of grapefruit - sweet and zingy on the nose and with a more robust almost bitterness on the taste. The addition of Peter Spanton tonic (again) made this sing.


Mortlach Rare Old, 43.4%
Colour: Vibrant toffee
Nose: All things Christmas... nuts, fruits, and a dry spiciness with an oddly fresh minty hit.
Palate: Sweet and sherried stickiness with hazelnuts, and a strange savoury hit of wood in the background.
Finish: Long, with festive spice and a dry oaky edge.

42 Below Manuka Honey, 40%
Such an intense honey aroma on this one... amazingly creamy and sweet scent. It's fresher on the palate with an alcohol tang. I turned this into a twist on a Toblerone cocktail, with Baileys, coffee liqueur and milk. Impressively the heady honey on the nose was in no way diminished by adding other ingredients to it, and it softened the flavour wonderfully. The top cocktail all advent.


Mackinlay's Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt, The Journey, 47.3%
Colour: Light straw
Nose: Fresh orchard fruits with a twinge of tropical sourness that cuts through, leaving a light spice.
Palate: Raisins and sticky honey, plus a tickle of spice with milky coffee and dark chocolate.
Finish: A little crunch of spice, rounded wood together and an oily orange peel character. A lingering full mouth nature of dark coffee.

Pinky, 40%
A stunning little vodka, with a lovely rose hue and the scent of strawberries. Clean and more herbal in the flavour but still with a great fresh fruity, berry nature that doesn't overpower.This worked really well with a good splash of elderflower tonic and would definitely enhance a whole array of fruit juice based cocktails - I can imagine this tasting fantastic with cranberry or pink grapefruit juice. A very elegant drink.


Macallan Amber: 1824 Series, 40%
Colour: Unsurprisingly, it's amber.
Nose: Tons of citrus, with fresh lemon and orange zest. Dried nuts feature in the background.
Palate: Delicate, with spice and dried fruits, predominantly raisins. A perfect breakfast dram.
Finish: Cinnamon and chocolate come through on a short but tasty finish.

Aviy Pear, Strawberry and Mint, 37.5%
Seriously sweet-smelling... the pear and strawberry both come out strongly on the nose, with the mint more difficult to detect. Smells and tastes just like those candy necklaces you can get! The mint isn't particularly apparent in the flavour either but helps to balance the drink and provides a drier edge to the finish. Really interesting.

24th - the final dram

Lost Distilleries Blend, batch 6, 49.3%
Colour: Delicate spun gold
Nose: Fresh fruit, cider apples and light black pepper. Overall, swaddled just like the baby Jesus but in delicate peat, as opposed to a manger. Massive depth to explore... almost salty but with sweetness, like a piece of salted caramel fudge. Given time, the black pepper returns with a hint of pomegranate.
Palate: Chocolatey, fruity, with oodles more peat and a wave of the seaside. An orange oiliness fills the mouth with elements of leather, tannins and fresh tobacco, that become spicy as the flavour develops.
Finish: Nuts and demerara sugar, a salty finish and a majestic peated element which closes the show with multiple encores.

Bainbridge Organic Vanilla, 40%
Tons of sweet vanilla, toffee bonbons and creme brulee fill the nose. This didn't quite all come through on the flavour neat, but it made an EXCELLENT rich, creamy and flavoursome White Russian. Well, I couldn't have ended Vodka Advent any other way!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

A Karma Citra Christmas

For us, winter is definitely the best season for beers, as stouts, porters, and warming ales full of rich fruits and spice all come deliciously to the fore. Imagine our festive joy when our pals at Karma Citra decided that December's beery activities would be the perfect pairing of winter ales and Christmas fare (with compulsory Christmas jumpers of course).

The proceedings began with Sam Smith's Winter Welcome Ale. This brewery is often showcased at the start of Karma Citra's meet-ups, and it's clear to taste why - the beers are always well executed, prime examples of the style the tasting is themed around. Bottled at 6%, the Winter Welcome was easier to sup down than the ABV would suggest, with sweet clove and brown sugar flavours providing a lovely warm glow at the finish. A solid starter.

Next up was Blue Monkey's Bludolph (5%). Always fans of a pun, this Nottingham-based brewery is one that definitely appeals to us (their other festive offering is the excellently-named King Kong Merrily On High). This was a nice pale ale, but not particularly festive - a promising cranberry aroma didn't quite follow through to the taste, which was hoppy and light.

Laura's all time favourite beer, Titanic Plum Porter brought glad tidings of goodwill next. This 4.9% porter is just delicious, with a rich, warming and fruity flavour that reminded us of plum gingerbread and those little chocolate coated Lebkuchen biscuits.

Time to line our stomachs with a platter of Christmas treats... turkey, brie and cranberry sandwiches, proper stuffing, and pigs in blankets. A shot of homemade lemon vodka brought by some of our fellow beery friends was knocked back alongside this feast, which was a fiery yet sweet brilliant palate cleanser... Na zdrove!

Red Willow Baubleless followed, a 6% beer which blends their chocolate and imperial stouts, before being barrel aged for 6 months. Anyone that knows us will recognise that these are three components which all appeal to us immensely, and we were very pleased to have two of these safely stashed in the cupboard at home. The blend and ageing works really well in this producing a well balanced, tasty beverage which starts off sweet and ends on a drier note with a slight oilyness from the oak. Bloody lovely.

We finished on a seasonal Brewdog special, Mulled Dogma, which adds sugar, orange juice, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and Kraken rum to the already very tasty Scotch ale. Christmas isn't Christmas without a pan of something mulling on the stove and this was a really fitting end to a fantastically festive afternoon. Alongside this was served a hearty slab of Chocolate Orange cake and cream, which was a perfect accompaniment.

I think it's fair to say we headed home with a seasonal swing in our step, and we're really looking forward to seeing what the team come up with in 2015!



Friday, 19 December 2014

Advent whisky and vodka calendars: windows 13-18

Having reached the half way point, our intrepid journey through the world of fine spirits shows no sign of slowing down...



Paul John Edited, 46%
Colour: Dried Straw 
Nose: Aromatic - light peat, sugared mint leaves with a dried fruit and an edge of fresh strawberries.
Palate: Fruity on the tip of the tongue, a really smooth mouthfeel complemented by a bit of fresh red pepper
Finish: Oily star anise on the end, with a soft crunch of coffee bean to close and a deep tannin undercurrent.

English Spirit Raspberry, 37.5%
A beautifully rose-tinted, light and fruity vodka, made with freshly picked raspberries. I'm not sure this was quite the season to be drinking this as the subtle flavours would be perfectly suited to a hot summer's day. Delicate and aromatic, a dram of this neat didn't quite stand up to my cosy evening in, so I added a dash of Chase elderflower liqueur, which created a smooth, rich and luxurious short.


Balvenie 12 Year, Single Barrel First Fill, 47.8%
Colour: Light straw
Nose: Alcohol initially, apple brandy followed by a sweet coffee.
Palate: Light spice with apple juice sweetness, all rounded off by a crisp woodiness.
Finish: A robust oakiness with a lavender honey flavour to follow up

Vestal Pomorze 2013, 40%
I found this to have an overwhelming, slightly one-dimensional nose - earthy and a little petrol-esque. The palate was much lighter and more fragrant, but overpowered by the smell. This wasn't quite to my taste, however it would have been really interesting to have drunk this alongside the Kaszebe from earlier in the month to have a direct comparison of the effect of terroir... I could definitely notice a difference but couldn't quite work out what it was.


Rock Town Arkansas Bourbon, 46%
Colour: Stained Oak
Nose: Very fresh initially, strawberries seasoned with fresh ground pepper, with dusty wood and bibles.
Palate: To sum up the taste in a noun, I would have to say "church"... the oak is delightful and there's a pleasing underlying brown sugar sweetness.
Finish: Nutty, with more brown sugar in the undertone.

Davna Czeri, 38%
This. Is. Phenomenal. A traditionally produced Polish cherry vodka which just absolutely sings of all things cherry. A nose of those cherry lip sweeties, with a slightly medicinal flavour like cherry cola or children's cough mixture (and I mean that in a good way). Little hints of spices including clove and cinnamon are hidden underneath, which makes the whole drink much more rounded. Despite the high ABV this was an easy sipper, more like a liqueur than a spirit. This was enjoyed neat alongside a little piece of dark-chocolate coated gingerbread. Hideously festive.


Tullamore D.E.W. 12 Year Old Special Reserve, 40%
Colour: Sanded oak
Nose: Light and fresh with a prickle of sweetness and a dash of spice smothered over dried fruit.
Palate: Light orange chocolatey flavours with honey and a smooth and creamy texture. The sherry element of the ageing process becomes really apparent all the way through.
Finish: A vanilla custard tickles the tongue with a bourbon chewiness at the very end.

Chase Rhubarb, 40%
I really enjoyed this one. Old fashioned sweetie shop all round... gentle, deliciously enticing nose encompassing nougat and Love Hearts, with a flavour that was whole-heartedly those hard boiled rhubarb and custard sweets. Again, I drank this neat, but this would work brilliantly in a berry-based cocktail or in a bellini. Chase can quite simply do no wrong.


Nikka From The Barrel, 51.4%
Colour: Reddish Straw
Nose: Sweet sherry with a freshness, and a delicate floral splash that rounds off with oak.
Palate: A bold sweet spice coupled with deep raisin, and a hint of charred oak that underlines the richness.
Finish: A light cinnamon and a tickle of prickly spice, alongside a herbal note verging on rosemary which fills the nose.

Stolichnaya Chocolat Kokonut, 37.5%
Liquid Bounty. Mmm. Rich, tropical aroma leads on to a flavour which starts off as fresh coconut and builds to a tasty chocolatey smoothness. As with the Ciroc coconut earlier in the month, I just had to White Russian this (and the Stoli just edged it). Well, it is Christmas...


Arran Batch 4, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, 52%
Colour: Pale golden
Nose: A sweaty sailor clutching a dry sherry with a red wine smile.
Palate: Phenolic, herby and grassy with rounded mouth of a deep richness of more red wine.
Finish: a light delicate spice with a bold deliciousness verging on orange.

Square One Basil, 40%
Made with four different types of fresh basil, this is one herbaceous little beverage. The nose is fresh and fragrant, with a hit of liquorice root which makes the smell oddly absinthe-esque and a touch medicinal. On the palate, fresh basil is balanced by a rich, smooth and spicy fruitiness. I added Peter Spanton Lemongrass tonic to this which allowed the more heady, perfumed notes of the vodka to come through, and a grinding of fresh black pepper to cut through the aromatics and add a crisp edge.

We'll be back next week with the final instalment (cracks out tiny violin).



Sunday, 14 December 2014

Advent whisky and vodka calendars: windows 7-12

And so our epic advent spirits quest continues...

7th December

Glenfarclas 10, 40%
Colour: Straw gold
Nose: Sherry, with apples, raisins and hint of spice through the high-alcohol hit.
Palate: The drink begins smooth but builds to a sticky, burnt oak-y character with a sweet winter spice and a light fruit.
Finish: Stays around in the mouth for a long period of time with oak and spice and tickles with a light spice.

Blackwoods Botanical Vodka, 40%
Primarily known for their gin, Blackwoods also distil this product using a range of local Shetland botanicals including meadow sweet and marsh marigold. My first impression upon opening the bottle was a huge hit of pure alcohol which was slightly off-putting and meant I wasn't expecting much complexity of flavour. However, it was clear from the first sip that I'd underestimated this spirit - delicately perfumed flavour with hints of parma violets and soft citrus including grapefruit, and really smooth in the mouth.


Dalmore 15, 40%
Colour: Ruby
Nose: BAMM, sherry right off the bat, with a nutty sweetness, like hazelnuts and sugared almonds.
Palate: Sherry continues with orange oil and a sticky sweetness, with a drier nut taste than compared to the nose. A great tickle of sticky ginger and a hint of seasonal spice follow.
Finish: A little prickle of Christmas, nuts and malt with sherry sweetness that ends out the drink.

Square One Cucumber Vodka, 40%
I'll admit I wasn't overly looking forward to this one, as I couldn't really imagine how it would work - and I'm not generally the world's biggest cucumber fan. However, I was truly pleasantly surprised - the cucumber flavour was delicate, yet completely balanced out any alcohol rawness from the vodka, resulting in a refreshing and very quaffable little dram. I think this would work really well in a summer cocktail, and can imagine sipping on it alongside a chunk of watermelon. I'd anticipated adding tonic to this, but when it came down to it I didn't want to overwhelm the dainty flavour of the drink, so drank it neat with a squeeze of lime.



Auchentoshan Three Wood, 43%
Colour: Deep, rich bronze.
Nose: Complex - sherry prominent, bursting with dark fruits.
Palate: Fresher fruit with an almost liqueur-esque edge of cherries.
Finish: Nutty earthiness with a fresh cream finish and a pinch of spice. The sort of whisky you can chew over for hours.

Konik's Tail, 40%
Thickly sweet and creamy, with a pleasing level of just-enough alcohol bite, this small batch spirit is the quintessential elegant vodka. It's rich and complex, with a perfumed edge that reminded me a little of parma violets. Definitely made for sipping, for me this almost compared to a good single malt whisky and I couldn't bear the thought of adding anything to it. Straight up, room temperature, delicious.


Glen Garioch 1797 Founders Reserve, 48%
Colour: Rose copper
Nose: Spiced sherry and cherry with a sprinkle of pepper for balance.
Palate: Buttery cherry brandy and oak, with star anise and cinnamon.
Finish: Sweet nuttiness with a light sherry character that sits in the mouth with a delicate spice, and a fresh dusting of ground nutmeg.

Brennen & Brown Vodka with a hint of Cardamom & Plum, 38%
Definitely the most intriguing sounding vodka so far, I was really looking forward to this one. A huge waft of Christmas aroma hit me as soon as I opened the bottle, with cardamom prominent but alongside cloves, brown sugar, and fruity festive undertones. This all carried through into the taste - my favourite local bakery, Forge Bakehouse, make an amazing little pastry called a cardamom snurr, which I still haven't quite worked out if they're sweet or savoury - and this vodka provided the same sensation on the palate. I also thought this would have tasted phenomenal alongside a good chunk of Christmas cake. My favourite to date.


Glenfiddich 18, 40%
Colour: Golden copper
Nose: Raisins, apples and plums, with a lightly medicinal hint. A little like a used wallet. Caramel and mint also featured.
Palate: Heaps of tannin and dark chocolate, plus a hint of sweet mint, with a cranberry-like finish
Finish: Spice and light smoke with a fruity sweetness that stay on the palate for a long while.

Faust Cranberry, 40%
This shocked me when I pulled it from my advent box of treats with it's vibrant scarlet hue. The scent and flavour was all-out cranberry, no surprises there... clean, smooth, slightly dry, and fruity. I turned this into a little martini, with sweet vermouth and orange bitters, which made a really tasty and (oddly) slightly medicinal cocktail. I enjoyed this, but it was the first one all advent that didn't deliver anything above expectations - does what it says on the bottle.


Monkey Shoulder, 40%
I've heard a lot about this Dufftown blend but not previously had the opportunity to try it. Having recently found some excellent blended malts including Big Peat, I was looking forward to sampling this.
Colour: Vibrant copper
Nose: Toffee and orange, very light. Sherbet limes and Bucks Fizz.
Palate: Almost fizzy... more sherbet and a lemony citrus flavour, combined with honey. Very easy to drink.
Finish: Just the right amount of fieriness, mingled with icing sugar. A fine example of how good blends can be.

42 Below Feijoa Vodka, 40%
Now I am always a fan of learning a new word, and feijoa was definitely a new one on me. Apparently it is a tree which produces fruits also known as "pineapple guavas". I have to say though I didn't think this smelt or tasted of either of those things - the aroma reminded me of antiseptic medicine and the flavour a little of mouthwash. Having said that I wouldn't say I disliked it... just very odd! After sampling a little bit of this I've saved the rest for a cocktail night - I can imagine it working well either just with soda water or lemonade, or with apple/pineapple juice for a more tropical flavour.

So there we have it, half way through!



Sunday, 7 December 2014

Advent Whisky and Vodka Calendars: windows 1-6

Following on from one of the best purchases of last year we have again bought a Drinks by the Dram advent calendar each. For Jim is the whisky calendar and for Laura a change from last year's gin selection to flavoured vodkas. 

1st December

Haig Club, 40%
Colour: Light straw coloured grain whisky.
Nose: Prickling with sweet Szechuan peppercorn from the initial high alcohols, with almost cinnamon swirl sweetness later on as the drink opens up.
Palate: Sticky almost sourness of oak and bourbon with a mouth feel that is ever so slight, accompanied by vanilla custard on a baked banana.
Finish: Surprisingly short, with just a tickle of alcohol and a demerara sugar sweetness. The mouthfeel is a bit on the thin side, but with an interesting overall taste.
Marketed by David Beckham (an excellent marketing ploy), and showcased in a rather garish blue bottle, this whisky is definitely a talking point but the drinking experience overall is ultimately a little underwhelming. Interesting though, and would be a good way to introduce a non-whisky drinker to the world of whisky.

Cold River Blueberry, 40%
Full of fresh blueberry scent that whacks you in the face as you open the bottle - this follows into the flavour as would be expected. This fruitiness is balanced on taste by a herbal note, which I couldn't quite work out (possibly sage?). Overall, this has quite a heavy, cloying flavour - but in a pleasant way. I kept it simple with just a lime wedge to accompany to get the full flavour from my dram, but this would work really well with lemonade or in a cocktail - I'd go for a julep with simple sugar syrup and a good sprig of mint.


Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey 46%
Colour: Sanded oak
Nose: Orchard apples and fruit with a tingle of warmth, with a light overall aroma.
Palate: Fruits and cinnamon and a hint of clove. An overall apple pie flavour rings through the drink.
Finish: Light herbal finish, almost lavender.

Professor Cornelius Ampleforth's Besmoked Vodka, 40.2%
I've sampled this in a pub before as sheer curiosity made this absolutely irresistible, and I was really excited to open my little window and find this hiding in there. I was originally disbelieving that this would live up to it's name, but I will readily admit how wrong I was - it is just unbelievably smokey! To the extent that it tastes almost like a meat... a really good bacon to be more precise. Oddly, though, it's still a refreshing beverage, and the smoky nature mellows into sweetness on the finish. I chose to drink this neat which was powerful and delicious but if we'd had any tomato juice in I'd have gone straight for a Bloody Mary! This is the most intriguing vodka I've ever come across, which takes you on a journey from full-throttle fire to delicate embers.


Evan Williams Single Barrel (2003 Vintage), 43.3%
Colour: Deep ruby
Nose: Cherries, apples and cinnamon, with hints of chocolate and a classic bourbon oakiness.
Palate: A sour apple freshness, accompanied by a delightful oaky flavour with a light plum wood char.
Finish: A short finish that prickles with a little black pepper, accompanied by a BBQ'd orchard fruits skewer.

Chase Marmalade, 40%
A gorgeously bitter-sweet drink that more than meets with expectations, this has an intense marmaladey hit that's full of orange zest, with the vodka itself even having a light orangey hue.
The sweetness lingers for ages after polishing this off. My garnish of choice for today's dram would most definitely be a good twist of orange peel, and for a cocktail a glug of sparkling wine would allow this to really shine. Utterly lovely.


Jura 16 Year - Duirach's Own, 40%
I first had this on a sunny day at the Jura Hotel, the distillery tap (almost) a child's stone throw across the road from the picturesque stillhouse on the island, and an adult's stone throw from Islay.
Colour: A light ruby red
Nose: Biscuity, sweet sherry oak smell
Palate: The flavours move on to a bolder slice of Christmas cake with nutty marzipan and an oily, quite creamy coffee.
Finish: Like being sat by the fire warms your outside, this dram warms your inside with oak and dark chocolate. The oak barrels permeate all the way through all sensory aspects of the dram.

Vestal Kaszebe, 40%
This vodka has been recommended to me on many an occasion but isn't one I've tried before. On the first sip I was somewhat baffled - it has quite a raw, earthy flavour that reminded me of potato peelings! Not unpleasant, just something totally different to any spirit I've tasted before. A splash of high quality tonic lifted the whole flavour to a delicate yet complex herbal delight.


Bowmore 12 Year, 40%
Colour: Light copper
Nose: Salty earth notes, lemon sweetened with honey, and balanced overall with a light bourbon edge plus sweet peat.
Palate: A light peat that ripples with more honey sweet lemon, and a tickle of vanilla with a slight seaweedy underlying flavour.
Finish: There is a strong peat that hits all the way through the drink, with seaweed and warmth from the sweet oak, that keeps this delicious whisky hanging around in the mouth for a long time.

Festive Bison
Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka, 40%
This is one of the most popular Polish vodkas on the market, but not one I've had the pleasure of sampling before. Neat, the nose is sweet and full of dessert aromas, all marzipan and apple pie. The palate is more herbal in nature, with a hit of sweet hay. I made this into a little cocktail creation with the classic apple juice pairing. My version used cloudy apple juice, with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top for a festive edge - a perfect winter drink.


Spirit of Hven - Seven Stars No.2 Merak, 45%
Colour: Vibrant Copper
Nose: Black pepper and dark chocolate Toblerone giving honey nut sweetness,
Palate: A smooth chilli spiciness of black pepper that punches straight up front and with a light cinnamon heat that continues along the tongue.
Finish: The crisp heat continues for a lovely length of time, with a great hint of dark chocolate sweetness lingering on the palate.

Ciroc Coconut, 37.5%
Originating from France, this grape-distilled vodka is a real twist on the sort of spirit I'm used to. The nose is packed full of sweet, sticky coconut accompanied by other tropical fruits including pineapple, meaning the aroma as a whole is rounded pina colada. Given time to breathe, a fresher scent that's more coconut water becomes apparent. The flavour is smooth, soft and sweet - just like a Bounty! After sampling this straight up, I just couldn't resist turning this into a White Russian cocktail with coffee liqueur, whole milk and a tiny squeeze of chocolate syrup. Mmm!



Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Whisky Review #4: Glenrothes Select Reserve

I bought this whisky about a year ago from a chain supermarket for around £30 (there are often similar offers on, so worth keeping a look out). A no-age-statement dram bottled at 43% ABV, from a distillery with over 130 years of whisky production, this is marketed as a typical example of their signature style.

Colour: A light, straw-coloured dram.

Nose: The palate is of salty creme brûlée and an odd sweetness of strawberry bonbon, with hints of a light pepper heat. Given time to breathe, the pepper character grows to a prickle heat with slight clove.

Taste: Strong wafts of toffee and toasted coconut, coupled with sweet coffee. As the whisky opens up there's additional hints of sea spray, dry cereal, and custard. It's a smooth, fresh palate with a cheeky tickle of winter spice.

Finish: Vanilla and more sweet coffee present on the finish, which isn't a particularly long one flavour-wise, although the alcohol essence does provide a spice which lasts a good while in the mouth. The final note is a light, sweet barley end with just a little hint of sherry.

It's a decent all round whisky which has tempted me into trying the Glenrothes selection of vintages too. Definitely worth a try for the price tag.

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Lakes Distillery

Set in a beautiful old barn that was once home to a Victorian model farm, a stones' throw from the River Derwent, at the northernmost tip of Lake Bassenthwaite lies the soon-to-be fully operational Lakes Distillery.

We were thrilled to be invited along to visit the distillery before the Grand Opening (pop 15th December in your diaries!) and even more delighted when we were greeted by "Is it too early for a whisky?" at 13.07 (you probably won't be surprised to read that a resounding "no" filled the room at this stage). The whisky in question, ahead of their own production, is the Lakes Distillery's blend, The One: a tasty, versatile, easy-drinking dram which worked just as well in the early afternoon as the evening (you can read our full review here). Whilst we sipped on our first taster, we got chatting to Katie Read - business development manager of the Lakes Distillery and the very epitome of a woman who loves her job, combining her passion for malt whisky with a drive to promote Cumbria in the very best way.

The building itself took Paul Currie, Founder and Managing Director, 9 months to find, due to the extremely strict regulations regarding new buildings in the Lake District. How
ever, this "impossible dream" has been achieved in spades - the distillery itself is stunning, and the use of original buildings gives it a feeling that it always been there, a natural fit to the surroundings. The abundant natural resources and the quality of the water source also ensure that the distillery remains at one with its environment.

Beautiful scenery surrounding the distillery
Whilst we listened to Paul share his insights about the distillery, we had an absolute feast of a buffet created by Michelin-starred chef Terry Laybourne, who will hold responsibility for the bistro once the distillery opens next month. Our lunch had the theme of a top-class autumnal English picnic - beef and horseradish sandwiches, and homemade pork pies, Scotch eggs and sausage rolls. The miniature puddings were beyond delicious - pistachio and raspberry macaroons which just melted in the mouth and were the perfect pairing for The Lakes Gin (review of this to follow), and a sumptuous chocolate caramel tart (which Laura ended up absolutely covered in - can't take her anywhere). We'll definitely be back in the future to sample the full menu, and this enterprise helps to ensure that the distillery's appeal will reach out beyond the spirit it produces.
Once replete, we headed on over to the distillery building itself to take a look at where the magic will happen. Our tour was conducted by Master Distiller Chris Anderson - an Ileach! After a career spanning distilleries including Caol Ila and Aberfeldy, Chris has now come to take the helm at the Lakes Distillery. Chris is partnered by John Drake, distillery manager, who is passionate, super knowledgeable despite being relatively new to the whisky scene, and just generally an all-round top bloke. The whole whisky-making process takes part under the one roof, with the stainless steel mashtun and washbacks on one side, and the beautiful stills on the other. Traditional at heart, unusual touches adorn the workings of the distillery - our favourite was a little window on the stills, rather than the traditional copper door, meaning you'll be able to peek inside to have a look at just what exactly goes on in there!

As well as their gin, The Lakes Vodka production is due to begin in early December. Both these spirits will be produced in "Chemmy" - a rather cute still named after distillery ambassador and champion skier Chemmy Alcott.

Being situated outside of Scotland (although this will be the closest English distillery to the border), the Lakes Distillery won't be bound to the laws of "Scotch", and it seems they are going to use this very much to their advantage. One idea which really made us prick up our ears is the prospective concept of "Mad March", where each year this month will be spent doing something a little bit different - for example, as the distillery won't necessarily need to use oak casks, they are thinking about exciting possibilities including chestnut, birch and maple. In a world first, there's also the option to use a condenser made from copper and stainless steel, which is hoped will add more character to the final spirit. 

The Lakes Distillery is the perfect mix of old and new - it already feels full of tradition and heritage, yet with an industrial edge. This is mirrored by the whole ethos which we got from our trip: traditional ideas and knowledge make up the core values of the distillery, blended with experimental flair and innovation.

Watch this space!