Talking Blended Excellence with… Dhavall Gandhi

Talking Blended Excellence with… Dhavall Gandhi

We sat down with Dhavall Gandhi, master blender and director of whisky and spirit operations at The Lakes Distillery, to talk about the increasingly popular category of premium blends

News | 25 Oct 2021 | By Christopher Coates

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After beginning his career in corporate finance and economics and working as a management consultant with Ernst & Young, Dhavall Gandhi fell in love with bourbon and, thence, whisk(e)y making. He came to The Lakes after roles at Heineken and The Macallan.

Why did you decide to launch a range of premium blends?
Whisky is renowned for its innate diversity and, as a brand, we pride ourselves on our artistic ethos. … We believe it makes us well-placed to add something interesting to this market; something that will help to educate and demonstrate the impact which finishing the same whisky in different casks can have on flavour and texture.

Does this differ from your approach to creating single malts?
When making The Lakes Single Malt Whisky, we see the spirit’s journey as a continuum. If you change one element, the effect will change everything else. It is only when you understand how flavours are created throughout the entire journey that you can comprehend the possibilities.

One part of that process we have a particular passion for is the creation of wood-derived flavour. … As a result, with each expression of our blended whisky, our goal is to showcase the impact of oak and cask seasoning on the whisky’s flavour. Using the same casks to finish the blends as we do to mature our single malt, we can elevate and enhance different flavours. If our objective was to highlight the nuances of the distillate character, we would take a completely different approach.

What is the target demographic for your blends?
Our classic One Fine Blended Whisky is a characterful and versatile blend, designed to suit any occasion. In reality, this means who the target drinker is depends on the particular drinking occasion. We are also eager to introduce people to the diversity of whisky and the myriad ways it can be enjoyed — be that neat, in a highball, or through the more complex balance of cocktail making. Our series of One Cask expressions are designed to appeal to open-minded, adventurous and curious whisky drinkers.

In demonstrating how the oak type and the liquid used to season the oak add their personalities to the whisky, we hope to help people understand more about the nuances of flavour creation in the whisky-making process.

Are these blends for sipping neat, mixing, or both?
At The Lakes, we believe whisky should be drunk however you please and The One Blended Whisky is a collection of characterful and versatile whiskies designed for exactly that. Whether people prefer to savour our whisky neat, on the rocks, with water, or in a highball, our unique blends have the versatility to suit all occasions.

During this ‘age of single malt’, do you think die-hard whisky fans are coming back around to the idea of blends as premium and desirable products?
Yes, … if simply because some of the best and most sought-after whiskies in the world are blends. If that is not enough, you only have to look at the rise in popularity of New World whisky to see the evidence suggesting whisky drinkers are open-minded and willing to embrace new whisky experiences ... Even the most ardent single malt obsessives will begin to wonder what they are missing.

How do you approach the creation of a premium blended whisky? And what makes your blends special or unique?
A simple way to explain our whisky-making process is to liken it to an artist painting a picture. If you imagine the new make spirit as our canvas, then it is the casks we mature our single malt in that create the colours, with which the artist — or whisky maker — can paint. Blending is where the brushstrokes of the final masterpiece are made.

This process is no different for our blended whiskies, except, rather than new-make spirit, each expression of The One uses the same original whisky blend as its canvas. The profile of this blend has been meticulously crafted to allow us to showcase the impact oak and cask seasoning has on the whisky’s flavour, meaning it is the wood-derived characters that are the colours.

Of course, with any whisky blend, the make-up is always important but, in the case of The One, the impact of the oak and cask seasoning is of equal importance. That is what sets it apart.

What do you think a premium blend can bring to the table that a single malt (or single grain) can’t?
There is a lot of scope to innovate when making single malt or grain whisky, so it is not so much about what a premium blend can bring to the table that it can’t, but a blended whisky does allow you to play with an array of different flavours and characters. It also allows the blender to create compelling whiskies that can have an emotional impact.

What proportion of grain to malt do you usually work to when blending?
The proportion of grain to malt is how the recipe creation of blended whisky is traditionally approached but our method is different. Depending on the malt components, we sometimes use grain whisky as a binder, enhancer or component to stretch certain flavours. Like single malt components, the grain whiskies you use are also very important. For example, a North British grain will help the whiskymaker to achieve something different when compared with Cameronbridge. Ultimately, the final flavour profile will determine the proportion of grain to malt, and it all depends on how the blender envisions the final blend to be.

Read Christopher's article on six of the best blended whiskies of 2021 here. We're talking to each of the palates behind these whiskies — read more 'Talking Blended Excellence with...' features as they come out here.
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