A Hymn to Welsh Gin
The world has gone mad for craft gin recently, with gin-devoted bars and distilleries popping up at a rate of knots, many of them putting a unique and innovative spin on avours or foraging for their own botanicals. From the moor-clad hills of the Brecons to the valleys of the south and the mountains of Snowdonia, we’ve toured Wales to handpick six small-batch gins worth singing about, including one that has the royal seal of approval.
Brecon Gin, Penderyn Distillery
As you’re cruising through the southern foothills of the Brecons, you might well feel a thirst coming on. If so, head over to Penderyn Distillery. They made their name in whisky, but their Brecon Gin is equally worthy of note, made with the purest water that flows down from the Brecon Beacons National Park. The premium Brecon Botanicals Gin is more complex and has a really unusual finish. Hour-long, behind-the-scenes distillery tours are also available.
Tasting notes: Brecon Gin reveals a hit of fresh juniper, followed by coriander and hints of citrus fruits, cinnamon, nutmeg, liquorice and angelica. Brecon Botanicals Gin has a similar juniper aroma, laced with coriander and citrus, but you get all kinds of stuff as it opens up: cinnamon, cloves and even saffron.
Mix it with: sip neat or with tonic and lemon or fresh mint and cucumber.
Buy it from: Online (www.penderynstore.com). Brecon Gin, £22, Brecon Botanicals Gin, £28
G & Royal T
Da Mhile, Llandysul
In the back of beyond in Ceredigion stands a farm distillery like no other: Dà Mhìle (pronounced ‘da-vee- lay’). Their background is in whisky, but they’ve also carved out a reputation for one-of-a-kind organic craft gins. Indeed, Prince Charles himself stopped by for a tasting earlier this year. Entry-level is the Botanical Gin, a blend of 18 botanicals, some grown on the farm, including gorse, red clover and elder. Infused with handpicked seaweed, the Seaweed Gin goes brilliantly with all kinds of seafood. They also make interesting oak-aged and sloe gins. Tours run at 3pm from Wednesday to Friday; book ahead.
Tasting notes: My favourite was the Botanical Gin. It has a subtle aroma of rose petals, spice and juniper, but there are also hints of dandelion and peppery cloves.
Mix it with: Neat with ice or with lime and cucumber
Buy it from: Online (www.damhile.co.uk/shop), £34.
Aber Falls, Abergwyngregyn, Gwynedd
Just north of Snowdonia National Park, this is one of just four whisky distilleries in Wales, but again swerves into gin country with its range of novel gins that scream for a cocktail glass, like Orange Marmalade and Rhubarb & Ginger. These are made with the crystal-clear water that trickles down from mountains around Aber Falls. You can also go classic with their Welsh Dry. The emphasis here is on sustainability, with the distillery sourcing botanicals from North Wales, and working together with the local botanical gardens in Gwynedd to develop recipes.
Tasting notes: Welsh Dry Gin has a big juniper thing going on, with lots of citrus and subtle sweetness and spiciness. Rhubarb & Ginger is more piney, with warming ginger to finish - I really liked it.
Mix it with: Try it in cocktails like Menai Martini (with vermouth, lemon and lime rind) and Rhubarb Pie (with vanilla liqueur, gomme, apple and lemon juice).
Buy it from: Amazon, Master of Malt, Harlech, Joseph Keegan, £22-28
Cure for Cholera
Harking back to a recipe that attempted to cure cholera in the 1800s, cygnet is aiming to wing Swansea into a brighter future with its hand-crafted Welsh dry gin, overseen by master distiller Dai Wakely. Swansea’s heritage as a port city is revived in the botanicals, which come from all over the globe and feature almonds, cardamom, chamomile, angelica root, coriander, juniper, licorice and orris root. The result is a clean, bright gin with a pinch of history. At the show distillery, part of Juniper Place (gin-themed dining restaurant and bar), you can see gin in the making while nursing a G&T or cocktail. For more insight, hook onto one of the free tours or more in-depth gin masterclasses.
Tasting notes: Crisp and subtly oral, with hints of chamomile, citrus, coriander and a juniper bite.
Mix it with: go for a classic G&T with a slice of lemon, lime or grapefruit, or add to any gin-based cocktail.
The distillery’s precise location in the valleys of South Wales is something of a secret, but Eccentric gins are swiftly becoming all the rage. They hail originally from Llantrisant, famous former home of Welsh physician and druid William Price. Distilled by brewers, mixologists and a freeman in a wide range of different casks, their wholly unique gins play up seldom heard- of botanicals, such as wild sunflower or ‘elfwort’, which gives it a subtle sweetness and an underlying oral bitterness. There’s a huge range to try too with utterly bonkers ones like Pembrokeshire Pinky, with cherry and lemongrass flavours.
Tasting notes: Very hard to choose favourites here. Madame Geneva has lovely hints of citrus and liquorice; you can really taste the rosemary, fennel and sorrel in more herbal Cardi Dry. Limbeck bursts with blue ginger, citrus, tarragon and Seville orange - spectacular.
Mix it with: Serve Madame Geneva with ice, a slice of orange and a dash of tonic, and Limbeck with the same (plus optional sage). Cardi Dry pairs well with rosemary and cucumber.
Buy it from: Online (www.eccentricgin.co.uk), from £30 a bottle, or from Master of Malt (www. masterofmalt.com).
Dyfi Distillery, Corris, Machynlleth
When Pete Cameron moved to the Dyfi 35 years ago, he felt he had stumbled across his very own Welsh Eden: a lush valley of rare wildlife, pure air and gently sloping hills. As a hill farmer, forager, beekeeper and experimental scientist, Pete created a small-batch gin using precision distilling, capturing a profound sense of place using foraged wild botanicals. These range from bog-myrtle leaf, pine tips and gorse flower in the Original Gin to rowan berries, rosehips, sloe, hawthorn, heather and bramble in the Pollination Gin, and autumnal flavours of crab apple, bilberry and blackberry in Hibernation Gin. Original gin was shortlisted for Best British Gin 2018 at the Great British Food Awards. Visitors are welcome to stop by.
Tasting notes: Original is rich and with lots of juniper; Pollination really tastes of wild owers, fruits and conifer tips - it’s amazing stuff. Hibernation is fruity and herbal.
Mix it with: Neat or in a martini or negroni, with optional garnish of bruised juniper and twisted lime peel.
Buy it from: Online (www.dyfidistillery.com), £31.95- £42.95
Natural Selection: A good gin deserves a great mixer
Llanllyr SOURCE mixers, Talsarn
It’s all in the water. That’s the secret to Llanllyr SOURCES’s range of mixers. Their low mineral, wonderfully soft, water is sourced from springs in the heart of Ceredigion located on their organic, Green Dragon Level 5 Environmental Certified, farm. This helps explain why Llanllyr SOURCE is the water of choice for many of the world’s best Michelin starred restaurants, who know a thing or two about taste. Utilising the pure SOURCE water as the base ingredient and working closely with mixologists they have now redefined mixers with a range that includes two tonic waters.
Tasting notes: The natural softness of the water is particularly effective in the lightly bittered tonic water which really lets the subtleties of the gin shine. With less quinine, and purely natural ingredients, it’s a gentler mixer than many other brands. It’s ideally suited to enhancing the botanical and oral flavours of modern craft gins, whilst also allowing you to see more traditional favourites in a new light. We really loved it in Cygnet and Dyfi ’s Pollination, noticing that it adds a very pleasant citrus finish. The light version is slightly more bitter and works brilliantly with juniper biased gins such as Aber Falls’ Welsh Dry.
Buy it from: discoverdelicious.wales £13.50 for four
Let us know what you thought of these gins and suggestions for your best gins from Scotland!