The best Welsh spirits to celebrate St. David’s Day
The Welsh sure aren’t short on national spirit. From bellowing out their anthem (did you see the rugby over the weekend?!) to the annual St. David’s Day parade (it’s a virtual celebration this year), Cymru is a country whose cup runneth over with patriotic pride. And patriotic spirits, come to that.
Because the Welsh know a think or two about distilling, brewing and bottling — and they have exported their expertise all over the globe. Jack Daniels, for example, was of Welsh descent. But some of the most talented spirit-makers in Britain remain in Wales, crafting everything from woody whiskies to spiced rums — everywhere from Anglesea to Cardiff Bay. Here are eight of the best bottles to toast St. David’s Day 2021…
Where is it made? In the heart of Swansea, distilled following a recipe that was inspired — in part, at least — by a local attempt to cure cholera in the 19th century. It doesn’t do that, unfortunately. But it does taste mighty nice.
What does it taste like? Again influenced by the past, Cygnet capitalises on Swansea’s seafaring history and uses botanicals sourced from other global ports. Expect pink grapefruit peel, liquorice root, orris root, cardamom seed, almond and chamomile.
How should I drink it? A classic G&T will do it. But double-down on the St. David’s Day theme and opt for a Welsh tonic water. Our pick would be Llanllyr Source’s Light Tonic Water, that draws its water from the natural springs under Wales’ rolling green hills.
Where is it made? In a village in Rhondda Cynon Taf, in the Cynon Valley — where the company launched in 2000 as the ‘Welsh Whisky Company’. The brand is also expanding, and will soon have a second site in Llandudno.
What does it taste like? It’s all there in the name. Deep, luxurious woody flavours form the heart of our favourite Penderyn. It may be the latest addition to the brand’s ‘Gold Range’, but the dark chocolate nose, creamy texture and lush vanilla finish undoubtedly make it the best.
How should I drink it? Alongside a generous slice of Hafod Cheddar. From Holden Farm Dairy on Bwlchwernen Fawr, it’s an unpasteurised with a complex, earthy flavour and rich texture that will marry up perfectly with Penderyn’s Rich Oak.
Where is it made? The Pembrokeshire Coast. In fact, this stellar spiced rum takes its name from Barti Ddu, or ‘Black Bart’, the infamous, notorious 18th century pirate who was born in western Wales.
What does it taste like? It may ride on a wave of vanilla-tinged, orange-spiced Caribbean rums, but Barti’s secret ingredient is Pembrokeshire laver seaweed, also know as ‘Welshman’s caviar’. It adds a savoury spin to the sweetness, and creates a rum fit for a freebooter.
How should I drink it? Neat, most likely. But, if you do what to whip this rum into a cocktail, try the ‘Milk of the Poppy’ drink suggested on the brand’s website. It blends the rum with Tomos a Lilford’s rich Cwrgl stout for a thickly refreshing serve.
Where is it made? Just a stone’s throw from Rhaeadr Fawr, the famous Aber Falls waterfall. Breindal (it means ‘royalty’ in Welsh) is made using a handmade copper still in the Aber Falls Distillery to achieve a beautifully smooth, sweet finish.
What does it taste like? It’s a little softer than the crisp, clean vodkas of Russia, and a little less citric than those made in France. Instead, expect soft lemon tones, with a dash of peppercorn and just a touch of delicate, fragrant florals.
How should I drink it? Remember that Pembrokeshire laver seaweed that flavours Barti Spiced Rum? It’s called ‘Welshman’s caviar’ for a reason. Salty, dried and toasted, it’s the perfect companion for a glass of icy, pure Welsh vodka.
Where is it made? The Welsh Wind distillery, a quaint, quintessentially Welsh little outfit overlooking Cardigan Bay. Specifically, this handsomely bottled gin is distilled in the brand’s copper pot still, Meredith.
What does it taste like? There’s a little bit of everything swirling around in this one. Think winter spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and ginger) coupled with sharp orange and tea-soaked currants. The result? A sweet-but-spicy first sip, followed by a long tannin-infused finish.
How should I drink it? With the currant and cinnamon flavours in this gin, there’s only one snack that’ll do; a freshly-griddled Welsh cake.
Where is it made? Initially, the Caribbean. Eventually, Cardiff. Devil’s Bridge imports its base rum to Wales and infuses it, in a copper pot still, with several thoroughly Welsh ingredients.
What does it taste like? Fruits and spices. But also Shirgar Carmarthanshire butter (which is added for smoothness), Glengettie black tea (added for a dry finish) and bara brith (a national enriched fruit bread added for a savoury touch).
How should I drink it? Alongside a hot buttered slab of that sumptuous bara brith. The fruits and spices will complement each as well as those gin and Welsh cakes above.
Where is it made? The same distillery as that Breindal Vodka further up this list. Okay, we know that this one isn’t technically a spirit, but we think it tastes even better than Aber Falls’ range of whiskies and gins.
What does it taste like? Like you’ve dropped shards of bittersweet dark chocolate into a freshly brewed espresso. It’s velvety, sweet, and deliciously rich.
How should I drink it? It may have been inspired by the Espresso Martini, but we’d mix it into another of Aber Falls’ suggested serves; the creamy, Baileys-based ‘Celtic Dream’ cocktail.
Where is it made? The second distillery to appear twice on this list, Merlyn Cream Liqueur is another pioneering product from Penderyn. It’s a unique, silky blend of Welsh malted barley spirit and pure fresh dairy cream.
What does it taste like? Like magic. Aber Falls suggest using Baileys in the ‘Celtic Dream’ cocktail above, but we’d go with Merlyn every time. It has notes of fudge and toffee, tingling aromas of vanilla — and even a hint of exotic, ripe banana.
How should I drink it? Over ice. It’s wonderful when mixed into a cocktail — don’t get us wrong. But Merlyn is best enjoyed when sipped straight and slightly chilled.
Looking for more inventive spins on spirits? Here’s how one brand put a botanical spin on vodka…
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