A recent revival of distilleries in Wales has astounded fans of a good tipple all around the world. Luke Owain Boult provides a handy guide to the emerging industry just in time for a Christmas dram.
On St David’s Day 2004, the centuries-old tradition of Welsh whisky made a return after over a hundred years of being neclected, but never forgotten. The Welsh Whisky Company set up home in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons and decided to name their spirit, now Wales‘ national spirit, after a symbol of Welsh defiance: Penderyn. Since then a selection of styles of whisky, from Madeira Finish, Peated and Sherrywood whiskies, and ones commemorating important moments of Welsh cultural history such as the Red Flag and Dylan blends, named after the 1831 Merthyr Rising, where the first ever red flag was flown for the socialist cause, and Dylan Thomas. Their success has also inspired the creation of vodka, gin, and cream liqueurs by the same company.
The temperance movement that came along with the spread of Methodism in Wales saw the end of many of Wales‘ distilleries, and since then numerous attempts have been made to revive the tradition, including a rather cheeky episode in the 90s where Scottish whiskies were bottled in Wales and advertised as Welsh whiskies, resulting unsurprisingly in a law suit.
Based in Anglesey, the Celtic Spirit Company claims to be the oldest spirit company in Wales, dating back to the 1890s. Most famous for their Black Mountain and Danzy Jones brandy and whisky liquors, they also offer horrifically strong poteen. Da Mhile, an indepenent farmhouse distillery in West Wales, offer up a range of interesting spirits and liquors, including an apple brandy made with apples on the farm, as well as their own range of gin, including one made with seaweed, fittingly launched on St David’s Day.
While there aren’t many distilleries in Wales, they seem to be making something of a comeback and gaining an international reputation for almost always being of high quality. All I hope is that we see more variety in future, but there is no denying that there is a surprisingly large range of products in an industry that was only recently revived.
Penderyn Whisky. Info: www.welsh-whisky.co.uk; Celtic Spirit Company. Info: www.celticspirit.co.uk; Da Mhile. Info: www.damhile.co.uk
photos MEGAN EAVES