24 February 2022

114th Whisky Insiders Interview - Max and Claire Vaughan

White Peak Distillery

How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
We founded White Peak Distillery in 2016, and we were what you might call total novices having no background in whisky. However, we are incredibly passionate about our whisky-making and creating flavour that has a strong sense of place. This drive and focus has led us to create and build our own distillery and way of making whisky-  the very first to be made in Derbyshire.

Our whisky story began as enthusiastic consumers which took on a ‘dream’ in 2011 after we’d moved back to Derbyshire, where we grew up, to bring up our young family. The craft spirits category was developing, somewhat on the back of the gin boom and, with our interest in whisky and the green shoots of an English whisky scene, we believed we could create our own whisky here in Derbyshire.  It was somewhat a leap of faith and belief in ourselves, but it seemed like a great time to be involved in an emerging category.

Derbyshire and The Peak District felt like the right place for a whisky distillery and, with 13 million visitors pa, establishing a destination and experience were always part of our plans. In terms of liquid, our vision has always been quite simple; to create honest, authentic whisky with true provenance of place.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
Without doubt, the release of our first single malt whisky, almost exactly 6 years since we first visited site. Wire Works Whisky was released in early Feb, and the response has been amazing – it’s really been quite humbling.  Most important is the feedback on the spirit, and that has been one of the most satisfying things for the team. For years, we’ve been laser focused on creating great flavours (pre-maturation) through use of live yeast and long fermentation, and so to now (at long last) have positive things said and written about our whisky gives us a real buzz about what we’ve been able to achieve.   
Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
Max: My first dram would have been a glug of something as a teenager that I had no appreciation for (and likely warranted little). The first whisky I fell in love with was from Bruichladdich, and at the time that was as much about the distillery story and resurrection. We bought a cask in 2007 which is still sat in the warehouse on Islay.

Claire: I only got into whisky in my early 30s (courtesy of Max and his Dad) and the first dram I enjoyed was whilst on holiday in France, and it was a cask-strength, peated SMWS bottling – but at the time I didn’t know how to de-code the SMWS number system!

What does whisky mean to you?
There’s a romance in making whisky. A sense in which you have to totally commit to putting your heart and soul into making something for which the gratification of feedback is years away.  Without wishing to sound too grand, we hope we will be leaving behind a legacy that people will enjoy and be talking about in years to come.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
Hopefully spending more time together on the fun stuff, talking with people about our whisky and growing our brand domestically and overseas, and less time on all the many distractions that come with running a start-up!

What was your last dram?
It was a 3 year old single cask bottling from The Chain Pier Distillery in Edinburgh. Aged in virgin oak and delicious.  Courtesy of our friends at Melody Whisky Bar in London.

Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
Not really and it depends on the mood.  There such a variety of both available and we’re always curious to try new things.

What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
Anytime that we get to relax and sit down together and savour some of our creations.
What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?
It's hard to imagine a seismic shift in something that has been around for centuries, but the general theme of ongoing creativity is something that we plan to continue to be a part of. Sustainability is undoubtedly also coming into sharper focus, in terms of process and packaging, which is both industry and consumer led.
What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
The first one drawn from any of our casks – that moment of anticipation is special!
Many thanks to Max and Claire Vaughan. Who will be our next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!