Dhavall Gandhi: A Gujarati and his Scotch story

On the north shore of Bassenthwaite Lake in England’s Lake District, is a 160-year-old Victorian farmstead that is now home to The Lakes Distillery. Established in 2011, the young, contemporary outfit (one of only six English distilleries producing whisky) is creating lightly-peated spirits, and experimenting with ex-bourbon and sherry casks for maturation. Interestingly, its whisky master is a Gujarati who used to work as a financial analyst.

Dhavall Gandhi, 38, was with Ernst & Young in the US before he took a U-turn in his career. “I come from a family of whisky connoisseurs. [During a summer programme at the London School of Economics, I visited Scotland] and my father told me to visit at least one distillery. I did a full tour, and attended the Scotch Whisky Experience, which got me hooked,” he says. “I liked the complexity of the spirit and how it transforms as it ages depending on the maturing process in different types of casks.” When he returned to North Carolina, he did the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky, which cemented his decision to quit his job and follow his new-found passion.

Dhavall Gandhi: A Gujarati and his Scotch story

Flavour forward

With multiple degrees, including Chartered Scientist in Distilling from the Institute of Brewing & Distilling, London, and a Masters in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, where he currently resides, Gandhi cut his teeth as a brewmaster at Heineken and later as a whisky maker at The Macallan, before joining The Lakes in 2015. “Building a new whisky brand is not for the faint-hearted. It necessitates a large upfront investment [the distillery has raised in excess of £13 million of equity investment and, recently, received its first institutional investment of £3.75 million] and many years to see the results. We respect the conventions of Scotch whisky heritage, but are open to a world of other influences,” he says.

The Lakes practises ‘holistic whisky making’, with Gandhi involved at every stage, from personally sourcing the casks to ‘maturing the spirit with intent’. As he recently explained to UK-based online retailer Master of Malt, “We focus on the flavour profile we want and then mature the spirits in those types of casks, treatments, toasting levels... All the variables are controlled, so the end result is what we intended it to be, not something that ‘hopefully turns out good’.”

Dhavall Gandhi: A Gujarati and his Scotch story

Under his guidance, the fermentation process has been pushed up to 96 hours, twice the industry average, to create complexity and depth of flavour. Distillation is also slow and long because, he believes, the more contact the alcohol vapour has with the copper still, the fruitier and vibrant the resulting spirit will be. “Whisky-making is a dance between science and art, control and creativity. It necessitates being sensitive to how the climate affects the conversation between the oak, air and spirit, and flowing new ideas around this frame,” he says.

Led by faith
  • Gandhi’s big launch is the Quatrefoil Collection, a range of four single malts — Faith, Hope, Luck and Love — inspired by four iconic Lake District landmarks (Striding Edge climbing route, Scafell Pike mountain, River Derwent and Skiddaw mountain). “Its USP is that, at each stage of maturity, the spirit will be bottled at cask strength. This will convey the full body of colour and flavour of the oak casks,” he says. Faith came out in 2018, Hope is due this year, and the remaining two will be out in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Only 3,500 bottles will be produced per label to maintain exclusivity.

Sherry experiments

Currently, Gandhi is busy defining a sherry-led house style. “It is by far the most expensive option, but we believe the complexities of our spirit will blossom best when aged in ex-sherry casks. 80% of our new spirit is filled into not only the standard 500-litre ‘butt’ — made from European oak and seasoned with oloroso [a heavy sherry] — but also ex-sherry casks made from Spanish, American and French oak,” he explains, adding that 250-litre ‘hogsheads’ are used too, to add yet more flavour options. Till date, the distillery has come out with ‘The One’, a unique blend of malt and grain whiskies from England and Scotland (finished in first-fill Pedro Ximénez sherry casks, and priced between £29.95 and £48), and ‘Steel Bonnets’, another cross-border blend (£55) with a “creamy, slightly nutty and full-bodied flavour”.

Considering his roots, Gandhi says he would love to have his products available in India and has initiated dialogues with several interested parties. “I am aware that there is an increasing acceptance of single malts in the country, and that the whisky drinking style is different from that of other countries — we eat a lot of snacks, and even pickles, with our spirits. Going by the Japanese example (they created their own blend of whiskies to suit their palate), I think a unique blend or single malt for India will work well,” he concludes.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 1:41:31 PM |

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