A Hymm to Welsh Gin
Wales 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 flavours 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 the country to handpick six small-batch gins worth singing about, including one that has the royal seal of approval.
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, £22-2
Forager’s favourite 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 flowers, 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
Botanical brews Eccentric, Caerphilly
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, mixlogists 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 floral 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 Cardiff 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). Cardiff Dry pairs well with rosemary and cucumber.
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 (a gin-themed fine dining restaurant and bars), 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 master classes. Tasting notes: Crisp and subtly floral, 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. Buy it from: Online (www.cygnet-distillery.co.uk), £34.99, or from Master of Malt (www.masterofmalt.com).