When we think of British whisky it’s inevitably Scotland that springs to mind. In recent years a bit of fuss has been made about a few English distilleries that are cropping up, led by Norfolk’s English Whisky Co, but much less is heard about Welsh whisky making.
There are a few Welsh distilleries already up and running and, in 2020, the whisky aisles will include a product from Aber Falls Distillery, the first distillery in North Wales for over 100 years. Excited to find out more about this operation in one of our favourite parts of the world we caught up with Managing Director James Wright and began by asking him “why now?”
“There’s an opportunity for Welsh Whisky to grow” James explains “there’s only three distilleries in Wales and there’s nothing in North Wales. The environment and natural resources that are available are perfect for a whisky distillery. Where we’re located, at Abergwyngregyn, is off the Menai Strait in the foothills of Snowdonia and some of the natural resources that are available to us are second to none.”
The most obvious of these resources is the water, which comes off the famous Aber Falls waterfall, but James is keen that other local ingredients are used as well. “We are working with local farmers in Wales to create a 100% Welsh malted barley. We’ve been using different varieties and we’ve even been exploring old varieties that have been brought back.” North Wales had a long tradition of growing malted barley 100 years ago but, like many agricultural industries, demand and subsidies changed the landscape, something that James is keen to help reverse in terms of both product and economics. “It would be quite nice with Brexit to re-explore new revenue streams with the farmers. Even our by-produce will go back to local farmers to feed the cattle.” And running a distillery that keeps its own casks on site, along with an in-house bottling line, will use a significant local workforce and ensure that everything they produce is Welsh.
As whisky takes a while to mature before it can be labelled whisky, the distillery has started out producing gins and liqueurs to use as a base for experimentation and to help build the brand portfolio ahead of the whisky’s release. “We see ourselves as the spirit of North Wales” James tells me. “We’ve got a botanical garden down the road from us with species that are only grown around the Menai Strait.” Some of these botanicals will be used in Aber Falls gins, while Anglesey sea salt is among the ingredients in their salty toffee liqueur.
Aber Falls spirits have already been picking up awards and creating a buzz throughout North Wales and beyond, which bodes well for that whisky. And how, we wondered, would James enjoy that first dram to be poured from the whisky cask? “It will depend on what mood I’m in! It also depends on what style comes out. The beautiful thing about making whisky is that it’s an art form – you have an aspiration about what it is that you want to achieve but there’s still that area where you need to wait and see what happens.” We, among others, look forward to finding out.
Tasting notes: Aber Falls Welsh Dry Gin
The distillery kindly sent us a bottle of its “mountain fresh dry gin” to try and we can report that it’s a lovely, simple, summery gin in the London Dry style. There’s good flavour from the juniper and quite a prominent citrus character while deeper fresh spicy notes linger in the background. One to drink with minimal tonic and a good handful of ice.
For more information visit www.aberfallsdistillery.com