Philip Day discusses Steel Bonnets, a blended malt whisky by The Lakes Distillery. The article features a brief history of the distillery, the origin of the ‘Steel Bonnets’ name and ‘What next for The Lakes Distillery?’
This detailed article about Steel Bonnets also includes The Lake Distillery’s product portfolio and tasting notes for Steel Bonnets.
The Lakes Distillery, located in an area of outstanding natural beauty, the Lake District National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has just released the world’s first cross-border blend of exceptional English and Scotch malt whiskies: ‘Steel Bonnets’.
In essence, ‘Steel Bonnets’ is a combination of their ‘The Lakes Single Malt’ from the English side of the border between the two countries, blended with some of the most respected malts from Scotland.
This follows on from the highly successful release of The Lakes Distillery’s first Single Malt Whisky in July when 99 bottles of The Lakes ‘Genesis Single Malt Whisky’ were auctioned on the whiskyauctioneer.com. website.
The popularity of malt whisky continues to grow, being worth over £1 billion to the UK economy in 2017.
The distillery is operated by
The Lakes Distillery Company
The Lakes Distillery,
near Bassenthwaite Lake, Cumbria
+44 (0)17687 88850
Capacity (Litres of Pure Alcohol-LPA)
Data unavailable but has sufficient capacity to produce about a million bottles of malt per year.
Open to the general public, see website for details.
A brief history of the distillery
Paul Currie, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Lakes Distillery, is a man with whisky in his blood. His father was the Managing Director of Chivas Seagram and at the age of about six, one of his first memories, was being taken around a distillery and becoming enthralled by the sight of the lustrous shine of the copper stills. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that he might dream about owning a distillery of his own.
His first step along the way came in 1995, when Paul and his father Harold established the much acclaimed Arran Distillery in Lochranza, Scotland, which happened at the time to be the only distillery on the Isle of Arran. (The distillery is now owned by a group of private shareholders.)
In 2010, while taking a family holiday in the Lake District National Park, Paul came to the realisation that the area, with its magnificent landscape, the lakes and the peaty foothills, together with its naturally pure air and water was ‘perfect whisky country’. So it was, that Paul’s dream of The Lakes Distillery was born.
After years of searching for the perfect location for a distillery, Paul came across a disused, broken down dairy farm that seemed quite promising. It had a barn with sufficient height to accommodate the vitally important stills, although it would require a significant amount of repair and renovation. Added to which, the grounds housed just the right amount of perfectly proportioned buildings. Seeing past the dereliction, the distillery team recognised that this Victorian model farm at Setmurthy had essentially everything needed to meet their requirements. Being constructed of beautiful local stone and slate, the buildings featured many of the architectural details, reflecting the splendour and prosperity of the Victorian period of construction. Finally, his dream started to turn into a reality.
The setting was ideal too. Surrounded by majestic Lakeland peaks and fells, nestled in woods and surrounded by rolling fields of vivid green, the farm was located just five miles north-west of the popular tourist destination of Keswick and only one hundred and fifty yards from an excellent water supply, being close to Bassenthwaite Lake.
The Lakes Distillery Company was formed in September, 2011 by Paul Currie, (Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer), who was later joined by Nigel Mills, (Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer), in April 2012. It commenced operations in December 2014, with the objective of creating a global, luxury whisky brand.
The very first distillation of The Lakes Single Malt began to flow on the 16th of December 2014 and it is the first expressions of this spirit that are starting to be released this year.
As alluded to earlier, 99 of the first 101 bottles of this new distillery’s inaugural single malt ‘The Lakes Genesis’ presented in a stunning glass decanter style bottle and packed neatly into a beautiful rosewood box were auctioned on the whiskyauctioneer.com site (two were retained by the company) on Tuesday, 10th July, 2018. Not surprisingly, bottle number 001 achieved £7.900.
The malt whisky had been matured first in oloroso hogsheads and then finished in casks made of European and American oak. Finally, these whiskies were married together in Orange wine casks from the Andalusia region of southern Spain. To further highlight the full spectrum of flavours that this maturation process had produced, the ‘The Lakes Genesis’ whisky was bottled at cask strength (58.3% ABV). Every bottle came hand-numbered and hand-signed with a certificate of authenticity from The Lakes’ Master Blender, Dhavall Gandhi.
Paul Currie, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Lakes Distillery, recently commented:
“This is a milestone year for the Distillery. We are releasing our first single malts to the public, and establishing the Lakes Distillery as a luxury global whisky brand. We know that people will appreciate the incredible story behind this historic release.”
As well as distilling and maturing initial stocks of premium single malt whisky the Company has built a portfolio of award-winning brands of premium brands and a range of flavoured liqueurs.
The Lakes Distillery is clearly seen as a driving force behind a revolution of ‘new world’ whisky distilleries.
Against all odds, in a relatively short period of time, this once dilapidated Victorian farm has developed into a world class whisky distillery and visitor centre.
Why is the Lakes Distillery new release called ‘Steel Bonnets’?
According to their website, the name ‘Steel Bonnets’ pays homage to the memory of those English and Scottish people who lived in the Border Marches from Berwick-upon-Tweed in the East to Carlisle in the West during the 13th-17th centuries.
Their life was one of constant struggle to survive, exacerbated by the armies of Scotland and England as they marched through the border lands to fight for the right to govern a united Scotland and England. The armies took from the people of this land, and in turn they also robbed or ‘reived’ from others, English and Scots alike.
In early English, to ‘reive’ means to rob, and from this were born the ‘Border Reivers’ who gained their nickname the ‘Steel Bonnets’ after the distinctive helmets they wore.
Allegiance was to kin, not kingdom. Loyalty was to clan – to family. These loyalties had no border or king, but united them under their clan names, Rutherford, Armstrong, Graham, Fenwick and Johnstone to mention but a few.
Nigel Mills CBE, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Lakes Distillery, related:
“It was very important to us that our geographical location, its people and its culture were recognised in this new blended malt whisky, ‘Steel Bonnets’.The ‘Border Reivers’ were an integral part of Border history in the 300 years leading up to the union between England and Scotland in 1707, which eventually brought peace to this battle-strewn land.”
Alan Rutherford OBE, Chairman of the Lakes Distillery, added:
“The Border region has a fascinating history of survival and family loyalty going back centuries. While there is a tendency to think of clanship as a uniquely Scottish attribute, on both sides of the border the tie of tribal blood was strong. ‘Steel Bonnets’ is a tribute to those people, and their families, who saw themselves as neither English nor Scottish, but rather the ‘Steel Bonnets’ Reiver warriors.”
Dhavall Gandhi, the Lakes Distillery Master Whisky-maker and Blender, describing how he he created the ‘Steel Bonnets’ blend, said:
“I hand picked the individual malt whiskies to create a unique blend – something that has never been tried before.
The whisky, at 46.6% ABV, has a creamy, slightly nutty and full-bodied flavour with notes of vanilla, ginger, nutmeg and hints of dried fruit. All held together with a sweet layer of wood-smoke. A fitting tribute to the history of the Border families.”
The Lakes Distillery’s core spirits portfolio includes:
As an English distillery based in the heart of the Lake District, their contemporary family of brands have to speak for themselves.
- The ONE, a world’s first blend of British Isles whiskies.
- Steel Bonnets, a world’s first fusion of English and Scottish blended malt whiskies.
- The Lakes Malt, their signature spirit, released for general sale in 2018.
- The Lakes Gin, the only gin with true Cumbrian provenance.
- The Lakes Vodka – the only vodka produced in the Lake District and a range of flavoured liqueurs.
(See website for more details)
‘Steel Bonnets’ (ABV: 46.6%) Taste Test:
Thanks very much to The Lakes Distillery for providing me with a complimentary official sample, which I tested on 29th September, 2018.
Intriguing notes of bitter orange, dried fruit, vanilla, warm ginger and nutmeg mixed with an earthy maltiness. Sherried sweetness and roasted hazelnuts suggestively mingle with a hint of wood smoke.
Full-bodied. This expression cleverly captures zesty citrus fruit, honey, nutty and treacle toffee notes. Pleasing malty creaminess against a backdrop of mellow, lightly smoked oak wood with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and
black pepper spice notes, all combined with an underlying sherried sweetness.
As taste sensations deepen, waves of warming peppery spices and peaty smoke develop as a warming afterglow with long lingering hints of the comforting treacle infused sweetness of the creamy malt.
The assertively spicy notes, blended with the creamy, nutty full-bodied flavours of the malt and its underlying sweetness render the expression a robust blend. It is as palatable and demonstrates a complexity comparable to many well established single malts. Based on the evidence of this bottling, I look forward to Lakes Distillery’s future releases with eager anticipation.
In only a relatively short period of time, the quality of ‘Steel Bonnets’ has been recognised by leading experts in the field. It has been awarded a gold medal in the Luxury Masters prestigious Spirits Business Awards 2018 in the World Whisky Ultra-Premium Category. In fact it was the only World Whisky to secure a Gold Medal award within the category. The judges, comprised of a panel of leading spirits specialists, commented that Steel Bonnets was ‘full and warm’ with ‘green apple, slight wood smoke’ and a palate of ‘cinnamon and plum’.
Commenting on the award on the company’s website blog on 4th September, Paul Currie declared that he was “incredibly proud that Steel Bonnets has been recognised by some of the world’s leading whisky experts for its excellence. Our Master Whisky-maker Dhavall Gandhi has created something very special.” He further added, “Our ambition is to establish The Lakes Distillery as a luxury global whisky brand and this recognition is another significant step towards this. I’m absolutely thrilled.”
What next for The Lakes Distillery company?
Recently (September, 2018), Nigel Mills, CEO of The Lakes Distillery, commented on the possibility of the company launching an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on AIM, a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange:
“We are exploring an IPO as a flexible source of capital to allow us to increase our production significantly, whilst remaining independent and focused on quality, as well as investing in our whisky stock, our sales and marketing capabilities and our distribution channels. Ultimately this will help us to achieve our ambition to build a global luxury whisky brand.”
“We believe we are well positioned for growth, with multiple revenue streams, and an appreciating asset in the form of our whisky stock, developed using our multi- oak, multi-sherry led production process.”
As it considers all possibilities for its next stage of growth, the Company has assembled a strong Board and senior executive management team, including considerable and relevant expertise in producing high quality whisky, building a global luxury brand and growing a business to generate shareholder returns.
In addition to Nigel Mills and Paul Currie, the executive team includes Deloitte-trained David Robinson as Chief Financial Officer; and Dhavall Gandhi, who joined the Company from The Macallan Distillers, as Chief Whisky-maker and Blender.
The Non-Executive Directors comprise Dr Alan Rutherford, Chairman, who held the role of Production Director at Diageo from 1989 until his retirement in 2000 and was awarded an OBE for services to the Scotch Whisky Industry in 1996; Tim Farazmand, formerly a Managing Director of Lloyds Development Capital, where he backed high-growth opportunities in the consumer sector, including Fever-Tree Drinks; Paul Neep, formerly CEO, and latterly Chairman of the whisky distiller Glenmorangie PLC, where he was instrumental in building the premium global luxury whisky brand Ardbeg and in the latter years worked closely with Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy following the sale of Glenmorangie to LVMH in 2005; and Richard Hutton the Finance Director of Greggs PLC.
1st October: The company launched a selection of gift ideas, stocking fillers and a range of Christmas crackers, each containing a miniature. There are also a selection of delicious rich fruit cake laced with British whisky. See the website for further information.
‘Steel Bonnets’ is a trademarked brand of blended malt whisky by The Lakes Distillery Company.