Hapus Dydd Gŵyl Dewi (Happy St David’s Day)! In honour of the Welsh national day we thought we’d show off some amazing Welsh gins.
Wales doesn’t have the same associations with spirits as the rest of the British isles but chwisgi (whisky in old welsh) was made in homes and businesses across the country since the middle ages. Made from braggot (mead) and without the peat common to Ireland and Scotland, this would have been more like vodka than a fine Scotch.
Unfortunately, Welsh distilling came to an end in the 20th century due to a combination of economic factors and the efforts of the temperance movement, who sought to abolish commercial alcohol production. The last distillery, known as the Welsh Whisky Distillery Company, closed in 1910 and another wouldn’t be opened in Wales until 1990.
That new distillery was also called the Welsh Whisky Distillery Company but later changed its name to the more distinctive Penderyn Distillery, famous for Brecon Gin and Brecon Botanical Gin as well as their diverse range of whiskies.
Dà Mhìle (pronounced da-vee-lay) has a similar story, starting as whisky makers and discovering the joys of gin. Dà Mhìle actually gets it start in Scotland in 1992 when John Savage-Onstwedder, one of the founders of Teifi Farmhouse Cheese, commissioned a distillery in Scotland to produce a whisky in celebration of the new millennium. The name Dà Mhìle, gaelic for two thousand, comes from this. Dà Mhìle Whisky also had the distinction of being the first organic whisky made in the UK.
Dà Mhìle whisky picked up a cult following in the years following the millennium and, emboldened by his success, John applied for his own distiller’s license in 2010.
The new Dà Mhìle distillery took until 2013 to finally clear the legal hoopla and immediately set about creating amazing organic whiskies. But, like many a whisky maker before them, they needed something to sell in the 8-10 years before their whisky would be finished maturing.
Enter Dà Mhìle Botanical gin, one of the only certified organic gins produced in the UK. Dà Mhìle Botanical is made from 20 botanicals ranging from the typical (juniper, coriander, angelica) to the more exotic (rose petals and star anise). There’s also a few botanicals grown on John’s farm including chamomile and elderflower, which contribute to the herbal flavours of the gin.
Dà Mhìle Botanical has a sweet and spicy nose with strong elements of cardamom and sage plus, more subtly, the rose petals. Following the nose is a big burst of refreshing citrus, but this is swiftly replaced by more distinct herbal and piney flavours. Botanical can truly be said to have all the flavours of the forest and drinking it immediately conjures up images of the surrounding West Wales countryside.
Dà Mhìle Botanical is a classic London Dry with some innovative touches but the distillery’s real star gin is Dà Mhìle Seaweed Gin. While some people might instantly recoil at the thought of seaweed gin it’s far from the most unusual botanical and works beautifully in this unusual drink.
Inspired by that traditional Welsh favourite, laverbread, Dà Mhìle Seaweed Gin is certainly not your typical London Dry but it is a must try for gin lovers. The core 20 botanicals from Dà Mhìle’s original gin have been rebalanced to better work with the seaweed, which is definitely noticeable but not as overpowering as you might think. The nose remains quite floral before moving into a herbal and citrus mix that is obviously the perfect partner for seafood; lemon, thyme, fennel and pepper. The seaweed adds another herbal aroma plus a slight saltiness that, again, is noticeable but not overwhelming. These flavours all also blend beautifully with the juniper, which is still prominent.
Really rich, in terms of depth of flavour, but surprisingly light on the finish it has more than succeeded in becoming the perfect gin to pair with fish. It can be enjoyed as a normal gin and tonic too, particularly if you prefer your gins on the savoury side.
Oh, and it launched on St David’s Day in 2014, so happy 2nd birthday!
The newest gin producer to come out of Wales is also the strangest, and considering Dà Mhìle makes gin from seaweed that’s saying something. Eccentric Gins more than live up to their name with a range of really distinct gins that embrace the New Western Style and the huge potential of what a gin can be.
Hailing from Llantrisant (and featuring one of the famous Freemen of Llantrisant on the team) Eccentric Gins are based in the cellar of a 200 year old building and use a natural spring that runs within the stone walls of the wash room to help distil their gin. They claim William price, an infamous 19th century doctor, druid and eccentric as their inspiration.
Madam Geneva is Eccentric’s most typical gin, a classic London Dry, juniper forward with just a touch of liquorice. There’s nothing immediately inventive about Madam Geneva but it goes to prove that if Eccentric want to make an excellent but ‘normal’ gin, they can do so.
In contrast New Western Limbeck is arguably not a gin at all. While juniper is a botanical, it takes a firm backseat to the heady mix of blue ginger and citrus. Seville orange, tarragon and orris make for a gently aromatic and warming drink. Limbeck is also rested in recycled, French burgundy oak casks which lend a peach colour and a smooth mouthfeel.
Young Tom is eccentric’s modern twist on an ‘Old Tom’ an older gin style characterised by a sweeter, spicier flavour that’s less dry. Young Tom is startlingly fresh gin that is fermented from an IPA wash, refined to a clean aromatic distillate and then rested for 6 weeks to truly develop its flavours. It’s sweet and floral with fennel, and star anise giving it a strong aniseed flavour.
Possibly the distillery’s most innovative gin though is their Cardiff Dry. Less so for it’s flavour than for the way it was developed. This is the first gin ever created through social media. Specifically, Eccentric used social media tools to survey drinkers, bartenders and mixologists to find out what they wanted in a gin. Taking their suggestions on board they have created a remarkably dry gin, bursting with resinous pine flavours and made with no citrus whatsoever! Although the use of rosemary and sorrel does add some of the citrus qualities back in.
So far these are the only gins hailing from hills and valleys of Cymru, but just as gin has exploded in England and Scotland in the last few years, we expect many more Welsh gins to come. Until then, between Dà Mhìle and Eccentric, Welsh gin making has demonstrated an excellent grasp of both the classic and modern styles with a strong focus on quality ingredients and representing Welsh history in a glass.
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