Dhavall Gandhi swapped his suit for a lab coat following a lightbulb moment when he moved from a career in finance to become a whisky maker and is now in his dream job — as master blender at the award-winning Lakes Distillery tucked away at the northern end of Bassenthwaite Lake, near Keswick.
Born and brought up in India, Dhavall went to university in the USA and graduated with a degree in corporate finance and economics before joining the world of management consulting with Ernst & Young, working across America.
But it was during a series of visits to whisky distilleries in Kentucky with a colleague that Dhavall had his epiphany moment. He wanted to become a whisky maker.
Although financial models and whisky making do not have many parallels, he did possess the rare gift of being able to identify different aromas and, more importantly, was comfortable with abstract concepts.
A move to Scotland quickly followed, and the dream of becoming a whisky maker began.
Enrolling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Dhavall earned a postgraduate degree in brewing and distilling, but with opportunities scarce, he initially worked as a brewmaster for Dutch lager brewing company Heineken before he achieved his chartered scientist status.
He joined The Macallan — a single malt Scotch whisky distillery in Craigellachie, Moray, Scotland — as a whisky maker, where he developed a grasp of the fundamental concepts and techniques in the art of blending, and gained an in-depth understanding of the sherry casks he now uses to make The Lakes whisky.
In 2016, The Lakes Distillery, based at Setmurthy, near Bassenthwaite Lake, were searching for someone who could help to define its single malt whisky house-style, and made an approach to Dhavall.
He made the bold and risky move to the relatively unknown English distillery. He said: “I have never been one to shy away from risk but joining an English whisky company was a big gamble. The truth is The Lakes presented me with a completely new challenge and opportunity.
“As soon as I was offered carte blanche to run the distillery’s operations at every stage of the process, it was on opportunity I could not resist,” added Dhavall, who lives with his family in Edinburgh where his son goes to school.
However, he stays in the Lake District during the working week and thinks of the area as his second home.
The Lakes whisky is set apart by the holistic approach Dhavall uses to create the distinctive taste. He explains that most distilleries look at the distinct elements — malting, milling and mashing, fermentation, distilling and ageing the spirit — but The Lakes Distillery looks at this differently.
“When we begin to create a new whisky we start at the end, painting a picture of the final spirit, and work backwards to ensure we create the flavours required at every stage of its journey through the distillery,” said Dhavall.
The Lakes Distillery was built on a 160-year-old farmstead on the banks of the River Derwent.
It attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year and has twice been named “one of eight distilleries to visit before you die” by the World Whisky Day campaign.
It has a visitor centre and bistro, and was voted the Icons of Whisky Visitor Attraction of the Year 2019 by Whisky magazine, having unveiled the first in a series of single malt whisky releases last September.