We’ve all received the email and invitation to join an exclusive club to celebrate and follow the early years of a distillery. Some of us have taken the next step and signed up for such an experience for a variety of reasons.
The Lakes Distillery Founders’ Club offered 2975 individuals for £595, the opportunity to follow their developing spirit and whisky for a decade. Each year, receiving a full-sized bottle plus to 2 handy 5cl samples to keep track of the progress. A popular option, this sold out a couple of years ago, giving members the ability to track and build a unique snapshot of a decade, with many I’m sure, eyeing up the secondary market potential once year 11 arrives.
My co-editor is a member of this initiative and has given us his views on the 3-year-old back in November 2018, as well as the 1-year-old spirit. We can even reach back to 2012 for an interview with the Lakes and their ambitions. Personally, I have to thank my neighbour (also a member) for giving me 4 of the miniatures, allowing me to sit down with the Lakes and see the development and potential. I do recall the offer, but at the time it was amidst an onslaught of rival offers and clubs from the new wave of distilleries. I decided to back the Harris distillery and look forward to their whisky when the time comes. A lesser form of 2-way communication was pursued by Harris, as we have to wait until the whisky is bottled before trying it. I’m always a fan of waiting for the moment and although Harris can bottle ‘whisky’ legally, they remain focused on waiting and I appreciate that focus.
Meanwhile, the Lakes distillery has come in for some criticism regarding their releases and pricing, including from Adam. There’s also been feedback from the Founders’ membership who believed the club included access to their first ever release, which wasn’t the case. For all the glitzy adverts and proclamations about limited and value, it pays to ask questions and read the small print. Every distillery club is different and some are more generous than others.
It also pays to be cautious and ask around. The stories that I’ve heard concerning a handful of new distilleries, the promises and then the reality. The customer journey and experience has been sadly lacking from some new producers. And what might seem like easy money to some distilleries initially, really is an important benchmark as to how they can be trusted and how they do business. Is the whisky important? Or is it the mere chance of unlocking cashflow with the practicalities of the offer to be decided upon later?
At the end of the day, it comes down to the liquid and whether you are happy as a member. The ability to follow the development of a spirit into a fully-fledged 10-year-old is unique. The benchmark remains the Kilkerran Work In Progress series, which was sold to the general public through normal retail channels. The promise was apparent back then, during that journey, and no one would say that the Glengyle distillery hasn’t delivered since.
Showtime for the Lakes, as we step through the first 4 years of their journey in liquid form.
Lakes Distillery Founders’ Club 1 year old – review
Colour: a light haze.
On the nose: apples, pears, chalky and some alcohol.A soft cider vinegar, white chocolate and Rich Tea biscuits. A clean spirit but reduced too much.
In the mouth: very timid with some cereal notes, green apples, lime and an ashy quality with alcohol.
Lakes Distillery Founders’ Club 2 year old – review
Colour: no change in colour.
On the nose: apples, mint leaf, lemon, wine gums and a creamy mellow white coffee.
In the mouth: again, light and clean. A freshh lemon zing, spirity, warming and apples. Slight wood spices and white chocolate.
Lakes Distillery Founders’ Club 3 year old – review
On the nose: caramel, vanilla, nougat, a sherry influence, chocolate, raddish, woodchips, apples and peaches.
In the mouth: more kick to it now thanks to the higher strength, honey, orange, tofee, nutty, chocolate and a forceful wood presence, but not too much development yet.
Lakes Distillery Founders’ Club 4 year old – review
On the nose: shoe polish, orange and cereals. Apples, vanilla, honey and walnuts.
In the mouth: more mellow now, toffee, vanilla, honeycome, apples and grapefruit. An ashy finish with some apricots.
An upwards trend, which you’d hope to see during the initial years. The key thing for 1 and 2 is that these were bottled at 40% and this decision really hampered the experience. I’ve had better Scottish new make distillates that have yet to see a piece of wood, which have more to say than each of incumbents.
The spirit is solid enough, inoffensive and clean but it lacks the flavour that I’ve seen elsewhere. After these 2 years I’m left questioning what is the distillery character? What is the DNA that stands the Lakes apart from the rest of the pack? Mere geography or a water source only goes so far and that’s mostly within marketing.
Thankfully, years 3 and 4 showcase some blending skill. The addition, if I’m right, of some young wood including sherry, has lifted up the character of the whisky and added some colour. These still aren’t the best young whiskies for their age bracket that I’ve tasted. See a 3-year-old from Annandale, or what is coming out of places such as Kyro and the Kilkerran Heavily Peated. These releases feel more ready for market and confident. The Lakes feels like it is stumbling towards something that is still a fair distance away.
But that takes us back to the journey that this particular club offers. For all the lavish marketing and claims, it was the ability to follow that progress that prompted many to join and there’s still a few years yet until the members can draw their own conclusions.