4 August 2014

Whisky Insiders Interview - John Drake

The Lakes Distillery

Distillery Manager


How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
I’m actually relatively new to the industry. I’ve only been in my current role since April this year, when construction got underway at The Lakes Distillery site. Prior to that I had been studying towards a Brewing and Distilling Post Graduate Diploma at Heriot Watt University.

I have been involved with Lakes Distillery for some time before that and thanks to my colleague, Master Distiller Chris Anderson, I was lucky enough to spend some time at the Dewar’s distilleries, Aultmore and Aberfeldy.

My involvement in the industry came about unexpectedly, in 2009 we bought a house on Islay, completely unrelated to the islands whisky heritage, apart from the fact that it’s in Lagavulin bay! On exploring the island I was given a dram of Ardbeg 10 Year Old, and it worked some magic on me. So I then visited all the distilleries on the island and was left thinking what a fabulous industry it would be to work in.
Upon returning home from a trip to Isaly, Paul Currie (our founder and MD) was on the front of the local paper, announcing his plans to build a distillery here in the Lake District. I arranged to meet him and the rest as they say is history!
I embarked on the best course available, Heriot Watt Post Graduate and began involvement with Lakes Distillery design meetings. Now we have a fully installed distillery, from dry goods plant and boiler room, right through the mash house, fermentation plant, still house and spirit collection tanks, all the way to cask filling and warehousing. All of which are currently being connected prior to commissioning by our mechanical contractor Musk Engineering. Soon we’ll be distilling whisky, gin and vodka. The plant is looking fantastic, very, very exciting times!
What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
It's happening now! The construction of our distillery in a former Victorian model farm on the banks of the river Derwent and Bassenthwaite lake. We are building a piece of whisky history, and it develops daily in front of us, thanks to some terrific people with tons of experience in the industry and to our contractors who are transforming our old derelict farm into a distillery, visitors centre and bistro.
Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
It was Bells. I followed the whisky path of many of my generation, I over indulged the first time I tried it, suffered badly as a result and was put off whisky for a very long time. It's amazing how many people did the same.
What does whisky mean to you?
It's obviously very important to me and is the product of an industry that I have somehow managed to secure a career in. I do reflect on how lucky I am on a daily basis. My time spent at Dewar’s made me realise how passionate and conscientious distillery workers are about their jobs and I think it’s due in part to the fact that they are making something for people's pleasure. I think that distillers and their teams take that responsibility very seriously and that reflects directly in the spirit they make. The process and maturation are critical, but people make spirit and some of theirs finds its way into the glass.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years time?
Five years from now will be a very important time for Lakes Distillery. We’ll have a warehouse with 4500+ casks in it, so we will have good idea of how our wood policy has developed our spirit and we will be able to begin to consider releases that may well have been maturing in some unique ways, or develop different finishes. We’ll also have a good indication of what the character of our main malt whisky will be.  I can't really consider being anywhere else, who wouldn't want to work with super people in a distillery tucked under Skiddaw on Bassenthwaite Lake!
What was your last dram?
My last dram was a 15 Year Old Glen Deveron from Macduff. Nutty as can be, very good!
Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
Ardbeg 10 Year Old with smoked sea trout and brown bread, always a winning combination.
What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
It has to be whenever I'm on Islay. Ardbeg old pier or after a dip in the Big Strand!
What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?
I believe that developments in maturation technologies will be necessitated by availability of oak. If changes in Bourbon regulations occur allowing a second fill perhaps, then that will have a significant impact on our industry. I don't doubt for one minute that our industry will cope with such a change, but it will need to adapt and be creative.
What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
Aberfeldy 12 Year Old, it's a 'worldie'!
Many thanks to John Drake. Who will be the next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!