by Gavin D Smith, 03/07
We don't usually associate whisky making with Wales, but it is a matter of record that during the 4th century distilling was taking place on Bardsey Island, off the North Wales coast, and during the 18th century two commercial whisky distilleries operated in Pembrokeshire and Cardigan.
In 1887 a large distillery was established at Bala in North Wales, but fell victim to the growing temperance movement of the early 20th century, closing in 1906. However, the art of Welsh whisky distillation was revived in 2000 by the Welsh Whisky Company which produces a single malt in their Penderyn distillery in the Brecon Beacons.
So much for whisky, but for centuries, a range of spirits has been produced in the southern Marches, the borderland between England and Wales, using the fruits of the Wye and Usk valleys. Originally developed as cordials, these distillations were taken as pick-me-ups and stimulants, and as they were very strong, they were measured out carefully by the spoonful and then taken in one gulp, usually after dinner, as an aid to digestion.
As time went on, making these cordials became a tradition, passed on through generations and handed down in family recipes. In 1995 Ben Jones, who owned a farm in Abergavenny, decided to distil apple brandy from the apples growing in his orchard, using a local recipe. This was the start of the Celtic Spirit Company Ltd, which now offers a range of liqueurs, Celtic Poteen and whiskies, though the whiskies are sourced not in Wales but the Scottish Highlands.
|Celtic Spirit, 12-Year-old Single Malt (Wales) |
An attractive nose of heather, malt and a hint of ginger leads into a smooth, straightforward palate, characterised by light toffee sweetness. The finish is long, with a suggestion of delicate smokiness and some drying oak. Not the most complex single malt in the world, but extremely drinkable, and at its best neat. 40.0% ABV, 70cl, £22.50, distillery website, specialist whisky merchants.
|Celtic Spirit, Danzy Jones Wysgi Licor (Wales) |
A whisky (wysgi in Welsh) liqueur, named after a journeyman stonemason who, in the custom of many Welsh working men of the late 19th century, added herbs and rosehip syrup to his whisky, which he drank in the form of a toddy. Eventually, the drink became so popular that Jones began to make and sell it in the Old Fountain Inn in Buith Wells, continuing to do so until the late 1940s. Danzy Jones Wysgi Licor is produced to his original recipe.
A pleasingly complex nose of malt, honey and spices. Very sweet on the palate, with honey and rosehips, plus molasses. Finally, maple syrup over vanilla ice cream. A sophisticated offering for the lover of whisky-based liqueurs.
40.0% ABV, 70cl, £16.00, distillery website, specialist whisky merchants.
For details of stockists visit www.celticspirit.co.uk, where an online shopping facility is also available.