Whisky Making: The Art of Élevage

Dhavall Gandhi is the whiskymaker at The Lakes Distillery. He's a humble yet inspirational fellow, whose passion for crafting exceptional whisky is infectious. Passion, and skill; his Whiskymaker's Reserve No.4 recently won World's Best Single Malt.

Dhavall has an incredibly involved approach to whiskymaking. He carefully considers how to develop flavour at every stage of the whiskymaking process. From the styles of new make. Through developing flavour during maturation. To the art of blending different casks together to create the final single malt. It's the middle element of that process that I'd like to write about today: developing flavour during maturation. Dhavall uses a rather special technique, inspired by making cognac: élevage.

Rather than sealing his casks, and simply waiting for the end result, Dhavall follows the process of élevage to create layers of flavour. This approach is much more complex than putting a spirit in some wood and waiting. But it is this active commitment throughout the ageing process and the interplay between spirit, oak, and air that creates the majority of the whisky’s flavour.

Dhavall will frequently sample every maturing cask. Unlike other distilleries, he will regularly effect change by moving the casks' location. Or, even transferring the spirit between casks to evolve and enhance the character.

Élevage demands patience. It also needs the whiskymaker to know each cask intimately. They have to understand how the flavours are evolving. How they can be blended with others to complement, enhance, deepen, broaden, or contrast. 

Time, of course, matters. But other influences come into play as well, that can transform a relatively young spirit into flavoursome whisky with a significantly older profile. Whether it is dunnage or racked warehousing, a warm, damp, high, or low location, or the climate of the warehouse, how the casks are housed affects the maturing whisky. The size of the cask, type of oak and the liquid used to season the cask all have a considerable impact. These add their personalities and integrate with the spirit, before working in combination to build layer upon layer of flavour. 

Each cask is unique. So Dhavall and his team identify the casks that create the core characteristics of The Lakes signature style whisky. It isn’t until three years of maturation that they begin to make changes. At this point, blending different flavours to evolve the core and encourage a range of new nuances from which they can make the final whiskies. 

It is only by understanding how these flavours are created and carefully controlling every parameter of the cask make-up and storage that you can fully realise potential of the spirit. And, when the whisky has reached the peak of its maturity, the casks are hand-selected and married together for up to a year before bottling. This creates the depth and complexity Dhavall wants for The Lakes Whisky. And, it's an approach that works exceptionally well. You can read more about Dhavall's whisky collections here.

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