Dhavall Gandhi – The Lakes Distillery
Let’s jump in straight in… How long have you been distilling and what’s going on at the distillery at the moment?
Having recently celebrated five years of spirits flowing from the stills at The Lakes, we’re looking forward to building upon what we believe is our pinnacle achievement to date; the release of our first widely available single malt whisky, The Whiskymaker’s Reserve. It is a landmark moment in our history and the response from the public, whisky industry and media was everything we could have hoped for and much more; with all 5,992 bottles selling out within five-weeks.
You were a Heriot-Watt student, going on to becoming an IBD Chartered Scientist, so grounded by a lot of science and process and learning. Do you feel that this grounding is a necessary step for aspiring makers and how do you feel it’s helped you?
I think what is necessary is the passion for the subject and eagerness to learn. Whisky-making is a life-long learning process, and you learn something every day. Sometimes you must unlearn what you have learned in order to progress. The subject is very vast, so you have to find an area that you like and go deeper than anybody else. It’s about the depth and not the breadth. Science has allowed me to make my art more interesting.
Your’ve referenced it already and obviously the bulk of the time is focused on Whisky and the art of blending which has complexities at each stage – but when it comes to Gin, where do you feel the biggest challenge lies?
I believe that the biggest challenge for any maker is to create something that transcends trends and remains relevant for years to come. Good gin is a delicate balance between art, science and design. The Maker’s philosophy plays an important role and mine is to keep things simple and focus on the essence. That is the main reason why I have re-formulated our Lakes gin to contain only nine key botanicals; everything unnecessary has been taken out to a point where I could take nothing more.
Let’s delve further into that – The Lakes reboot has been a while in the making and the results look amazing. How long did the entire process take?
That’s very kind of you to say, thank you. The Lakes reboot has been on all levels – product, brand and more importantly, our strategy going forward.
From the product perspective, our goal was to have one classic gin in our portfolio that stands the test of time. The challenge was to create a new gin whilst maintaining the distinctive character that defined The Lakes Gin and The Lakes Gin Explorer. The entire process took around six months as it included changes in the recipe and the distillation profile.
We worked in partnership with a creative agency – D8 – for almost a year before unveiling our new brand. Inspired by our distillery’s heritage, the Quatrefoil is an icon that represents our core beliefs – faith, hope, luck, and love – and can be found in the walls of our distillery buildings.
We’ve grown quickly as a business and remain very much on a journey to roll out our brand evolution but have felt for a long time that we needed to change the way we share our whisky-making philosophy, so it better reflects our culture, values, and, importantly, the quality of the liquid in each bottle.
For those who knew the original gin well, what’s the key difference to taste?
Our goal was to create a timeless gin whilst still maintaining the distinctive character that we had in our heritage gins. This meant creating something that had the best of both worlds – the citrus notes of The Lakes Gin and the intense full-bodied character of Explorer.
Adopting the philosophy of less is more, I decided to focus on the essential botanicals – nine to be precise – and create a gin that is balanced, versatile and elegant. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Each botanical in the new recipe has a role to play. I have not only removed the unnecessary botanicals but also increased the concentration of certain botanicals to enhance and deepen those flavours.
In addition to the new botanical recipe, there were some minor tweaks to our distillation profile that helped us highlight certain characters. I am proud to say that we have achieved what we had set out to do – a classic gin that is timeless and beyond current trends or fads.
Does that mean the rest of the gin range also go through a similar change over during 2020, or will some be left for the archives..?
The new Lakes Gin is now our flagship gin, and it supersedes the old Lakes Gin and the Explorer, which will no longer be available. Our Rhubarb and Rosehip and Elderflower gin liqueurs are scheduled to relaunch in March with our new brand and bottle design.
Gin aside, tourism is a big part of life of the distillery – how many visitors do you host each year now?
Tourism is incredibly important to The Lake District and to our distillery and we’ve won a number of awards, including being voted number 1 of 8 distilleries to visit in the world before you die by World Whisky Day.
Our visitor numbers continue to grow and, in 2019, we welcomed over 100,000 people to the site to enjoy tours, tastings, and dine in our Bistro.
That’s a huge number! As a maker is that a benefit or a hindrance, as access to both process and makers brings understanding and education, but it also brings additional pressures and requires different skill sets too – is it a part of modern distilling you enjoy?
The focus of my career is whisky but if you look closely there are many parallels with gin. Ultimately it is about creating, enhancing and complementing flavours. Philosophy is key as it will ultimately define your house-style and approach to creating interesting products.
Sharing how and what we are doing with consumers is an important part of this, and no-one understands this better than the maker, so, while the access people have can add stress and be a distraction, it is a necessity of the job which I do actually enjoy.
Finally, a whimsical question for you but something close to our hearts… We’re advocates of Gin being akin to Art and distilling (or blending) an art form – something we’ve written at length about in the past. From an artistic perspective, what do you think Gin as a spirit can unlock that other spirits can’t?
I couldn’t agree with you more. Gin, like whisky, is a creation; but for creation to be an art, it needs to trigger an emotional response. I believe that the variety and accessibility of botanicals gifted to us by mother nature gives the gin distiller an unparalleled opportunity to create something truly timeless.
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