The Lakes Distillery might be England’s largest whisky distillery, but they also make a mean gin and vodka. I visited the distillery just before it opened in its gorgeous Lake District setting, and hope to go back soon to see it now it’s fully operational. Meanwhile, I’ll just have to sample their spirits.
I’ve already tried their excellent basic Lakes Gin, which is good enough to drink neat or on the rocks. It’s deliciously smooth, and something for them to be proud of. It uses water from the River Derwent, and several Cumbrian botanicals in the mix. I know there’s a lot of hype about water sources, and people say that it doesn’t matter once it’s distilled as it all tastes the same, but doesn’t something inside you say that water from a river in the Lake District is going to be better than London tap water, which is what most of the major distilleries use?
It goes for the botanicals too. The Lakes Distillery sources some of its juniper from Cumbria, although it has to import more, simply because juniper is no longer grown in quantity in the UK. The places where it used to grow have been given over to sheep farming, so there isn’t a huge supply. More credit to the distillery then for donating a portion of its profits from gin sales to the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, and to its efforts to preserve and expand the growing of juniper in Cumbria.
They clearly build them tough in the Lake District, as their bog-standard gin is 43.7% proof, but their new Explorer Edition weighs in at a hefty 47.1% ABV. They’ve also expanded on their original gin by producing a damson gin and a sloe gin too.
The Explorer Edition uses no fewer than fifteen botanicals, six of them sourced locally including the juniper berries. It uses wheat spirit in their copper still, which only makes 1,000 litres at a time, the way they made gin in the 1700s. This is obviously more labour-intensive, taking this gin into the super-premium category, but is it worth it?
This Explorer Edition gin comes in an attractive blue bottle, which makes you look twice, but the impression is of coolness in both senses of the word – chilly and hip, at the same time.
Pop off the cork and a sniff reveals the same impression. This is like sniffing velvet. It’s fresh and citrusy. The nose is so strong you can sniff it from an inch or two away and still get the scent of it. While I like gin (obviously) I don’t like the strong juniper smell that hits you in the face, specifically the nose, but there’s none of that here. The juniper smell is subtle and wafts around with citrus (specifically grapefruit, for me), and there’s a warm smell to it too (if you can smell warm). There are also floral notes, of fresh summery flowers – not the daffodils that the Lake District is associated with!
The taste is also of warmness, velvet, juniper and grapefruit. The Lakes Distillery is confident enough to say of its gin that you can drink it neat, or over a few ice cubes, and I couldn’t argue with that. I try it on the rocks and it’s deliciously smooth, definitely a sipping gin, although given its strength I wouldn’t recommend more than a couple. On their website they recommend putting a slice of grapefruit in it, rather than lemon or lime, and although we don’t have a grapefruit handy I can sense how that would work. The gin also has peppery notes on the finish, a good match for grapefruit. And if that sounds odd then you’ve obviously never tried sprinkling a little black pepper on strawberries. Wow!
The following night we try it in a G&T using Fever Tree Tonic and making it stronger than usual. The super-smooth gin supercharges the drink and turns it into something rather special. The citrus, floral and juniper notes are less pronounced, but still there, and the extra alcohol certainly gives it a kick. I would rather sip it neat but if you want to impress your guests then definitely have a bottle of this on hand – and a few slices of grapefruit – to turn a standard drink into a proper cocktail.
from their website.
You can also buy it from Amazon in the UK: