Shaken or stirred into cocktails, sipped neat with just a crackling fire for company, or laced through puddings and sparkling wines, nothing warms a chill winter evening like the sweet, soothing glow of a liqueur. Robin Eveleigh urges us to make room in our drinks cabinets for some fantastic Welsh liqueurs from Anglesey in the north to the Brecon Beacons in the south finding inspiration in ancient recipes, wild ingredients and childhood memories.
Celteg - “taste over profit”
It’s been 32 years since Neal Kent traded the bustle of suburban London for the tranquility of a small holding beside the Afon Teifi. He brought with him his mother’s recipe for sloe gin, and - after a false start in animal husbandry - returned to what he knew best: alcohol.
“It’s dad’s passion - he’s been making wine since he was a kid,” says son Richard Shipp, who has taken over the reins at Celteg, based in Henllan, Ceredigion.
Besides their range of wines, Celteg produce nine liqueurs, using farm fresh fruit to infuse spirits distilled down the road in Carmarthen.
“Real fruit gives our liqueurs a full and rich body, and we’ll always put taste over profit,” Richard explains.
Their new range of premium liqueurs - great in cocktails - includes Blue Moon, a blueberry-steeped gin, and a honey and caramel whisky, Smuggler’s Gold.
This time of year, our pick would be their Welsh Elderport - loaded with a juicy elder and blackberries, laced with brandy and matured in oak barrels. What finer liquid accompaniment for your cheeseboard?
Dà Mhìle - dessert decadence
Just six miles north of Celteg, the Dà Mhìle distillery specialise in organic produce, and give a warm glow to their Sloe Gin with the judicious use of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon. Meanwhile, the Orange 33 liqueur that Dà Mhìle was founded upon - taking a True Taste gong for the first ever batch - is still made to this day.
Orange 33 is aged in oak barrels on fresh fruit and organic coffee beans for four months, the coffee bringing dark chocolate bass notes to play against the zesty, citrus highs. The result is a liqueur rich in flavour and with stunning versatility.
“It’s brilliant in desserts,” says marketing manager Jenny McClelland. “Our customers swear by it in a Tiramisu or a Christmas pudding.”
For a decadent, sweet treat, try drizzling it over chocolate or vanilla ice cream.
Penderyn - magical cream liqueur
World-renowned Penderyn have built an enviable reputation after reviving the lost art of Welsh whisky making in the early 2000s, and with their unique still they’ve also conjured up a magical cream liqueur, Merlyn.
Drawing water from their own borehole in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons, their distillation process delivers an exceptionally pure malted barley spirit that is typically lighter and fruitier than its Scottish counterparts. It’s layered with Welsh cream, creating a smooth, warming texture with a complex palate of toffee fudge, vanilla and exotic fruits.
Merlyn was voted the UK’s best cream liqueur at the World Liqueur Awards, winning a gold medal. Try it in your favourite cheesecake recipe to give the finished dish a gentle kiss of Welsh dragon fire.
Coles – a family affair
Like Penderyn, Coles distill all their spirits from scratch. Their rustic-looking ‘moonshine’ liqueurs - packaged in trendy Mason jars - are made from barley spirit aged on fresh, crushed fruits, such as strawberry, plum and rhubarb. The family pub, the White Hart thatched inn, at Llanddarog, Carmarthenshire, is beams-and-brass traditional, and you’ll find sweetshop gin liqueurs served fresh from the barrel. Head distiller Marcus Coles’ top pick is his pineapple, mango and passionfruit-loaded Tropical Gin. This time of year, we’d have to go for his winter-spiced liqueur, with warming cinnamon and star anise. Christmas pudding in a glass.
Condessa - trade secrets
Anglesey’s Condessa use a secret, patented process to filter their alcohol, bringing a smoother, sweeter taste - the perfect background for their rotating, seasonal range of fruit and cream liqueurs. Right now, autumnal and winter flavours abound. Their Black Cherry Liqueur gets a delicious, Bakewell-inspired twist with the subtle addition of almond. Welsh Praline Cream conjures up snug fireside moments and makes a blissful addition to a mug of hot chocolate, or you could do worse than snaffle the recipe for the Praline Crunch Welsh Cocktail dessert from the Condessa website.
Celtic Spirits - heritage inspired
Condessa’s team are also behind the heritage drinks brand, Celtic Spirits and their boozier, spirit-rich recipes are perfect foil to Condessa’s fruits and creams.
Celtic draw on historic, south Walian tradition for inspiration. Their apple and blackcurrant brandy, Black Mountain, evokes the herb-and-fruit-infused stimulant cordials once made at Llanthony Priory deep in the mountains near Crickhowell. Their Innkeeper’s Tipple whisky liqueur would once have been loaded with whinberries foraged from the high moorlands above Abergavenny, but now uses its tamer, cultivated cousin, the blueberry.
Sadly, Condessa founder Richard Jones passed away this year, but daughter Sally Nelson is ensuring her father’s legacy lives on with the launch of the Anglesey Spirit Company in 2021, encompassing the Condessa and Celtic brands.
Sally’s broad range makes picking a favourite almost impossible, so we’d go for a giftbox of liqueur-filled Christmas baubles and try them all. Best served with (or on!) a non-drop Norway Spruce!
Aber Falls – spilling from copper
The village of Abergwyngregyn - the northern gateway to the Snowdonia National Park - is famed for its majestic waterfall, spilling from granite hills. Nearby, at Aber Falls Distillery, Welsh malted barley spirit spills from their copper still. Aber’s first whiskies - which take a minimum of three years to mature - will be available in 2021, but indulge in their exquisite liqueurs in the meantime.
Their Salted Toffee Liqueur blazes with burnt toffee and caramel aroma, and uses Halen Mon to balance a restrained, fudgy sweetness. The Violet Liqueur carries the heady bouquet of a summer evening in a garden of scented flowers.
Oracle - bringing a taste of Brazil to Wales
Carmarthen-based Oracle Spirits are the baby of the bunch, having started out only in May, but their single origin coffee liqueur suggests a wisdom beyond their years.
Mixologist Ben Hool and business partner Gareth Davies make their liqueur entirely by hand, using beans from the Vargem Grande Estate in Minais, Brazil. Holding back on the sugar allows the beans’ subtle chocolate and nut notes to shine.
Ben has drawn on his cocktail experience in creating Oracle, and says their coffee liqueur is aimed squarely at espresso martini fans.
You’ll have to travel to experience it for yourself - at the time of writing it is only available in select Carmarthen cocktail bars - but with a new, purpose-built distillery on the cards, expect it to hit shops soon.