Welsh whisky can now be distilled without fear of imitation. Single malt Welsh whisky has received UK Geographical Indication (UK GI) which protects its name, authenticity and characteristics.
Single Malt Welsh whisky is the twentieth product from Wales to gain protected status, which also includes Welsh wine and cider, Caerphilly Cheese, Anglesey Sea Salt PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), PGI Welsh Lamb, PGI Welsh Beef and Welsh Leeks PGI.
But is the first new UK spirit drink application to be registered and protected under the new scheme which was established in 2021 following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Welsh single malt is currently being exported to more than 45 countries and is forecast to generate a revenue of £23 million (US$29.5m) in the current financial year including domestic, export and travel retail sales.
Stephen Davies, CEO of Penderyn Whisky, describes the achievement as a “significant milestone” for the wider Welsh whisky category.
“It assists in safeguarding both the quality of the product, and also its source of origin.”
Co-owner and director of In the Welsh Wind Distillery, Ellen Wakelam comments:
“Not only does it place single malt Welsh whisky within the wider Welsh GI family of iconic products, giving consumers an understanding of the provenance and integrity of the product, the research we’re carrying out with the Open University suggests that our local barley and on site malting combines to produce a whisky that will have a flavour profile unique to the area of Wales where the barley is grown.”
Whiskies made by the Coles family at the White Hart Inn, Llanddarog, Carmarthen and Dà Mhìle at Glynhynod Farm, Llandysul, Ceredigion are similarly protected.
Marcus Coles says:
“We are very happy that Welsh whisky has gained GI status, and it should show how good Welsh whisky and special Welsh whisky is. We have been working to get the GI for over six years and the distilleries are proud how we all worked together.”
In 1992, Dà Mhìle commissioned the world’s first modern era organic whisky which was distilled at Springbank in Scotland. The single malt was a one-off batch to celebrate the millennium. Dà Mhìle is Gaelic for 2000. It then worked with Loch Lomond on the first organic single grain, distilled in 2000. The distillery opened in 2012 and the whiskies were the brainchild of the founder of “Teifi Farmhouse Cheese”, John Savage-Onstwedder.
Although whisky was allegedly made in Wales as far back as the Middle Ages, the modern Welsh whisky industry was kick-started in 2000, when Penderyn, Wales’s oldest commercial whisky distillery, started distilling the spirit, launching in 2004. Wales now has six distilleries, including Anglesey Môn.
South Wales’s Penderyn Distillery and brand, founded on St David’s Day 2004 and opened by the then HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, produced the first commercially available whisky made in Wales since the nineteenth century. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Penderyn announced a new site in the historic town of Llandudno in north Wales. It is now in full production.
It also produces Brecon Botanicals Gin, Five Vodka, Merlyn Cream Liqueur and Siddiqui Brown Rum. It boasts an all-women distillery team of Bethan Morgans, Aiste Phillips and Laura Davies.
Wales claims to have produced the first alcoholic spirit in the British Isles. The monks of Bardsey Island or Yns Enlli (the island of the saints) produced a spirit in 356 AD for the great Welsh warrior Reaullt Gir. “Chwisgi” was a mead made with honey.
Penderyn Distillery, near Aberdare in the south of the Brecon Beacons National Park, uses a unique design of still for its malt whisky distillation. The still consists of a single “pot” beneath a tall rectifying column and was developed by a team led by Dr David Faraday, a descendant of Sir Michael Faraday who discovered the electrolytic cell.
The last distillery, RJ Lloyd Price of Frongoch, went into liquidation in 1910. It had been founded in 1887. The first attempts to revive the tradition ended when Welsh distillers were sued by their Scottish counterparts for bottling Scottish blends.
The Aber Falls Distillery in Abergwyngregynm in the Snowdonia National Park in Gwyynedd, North Wales, commenced production of spirits in 2017. The distillery near the well-known Rhaeadr waterfall, used to be a slate works, a margarine factory and a drinks wholesaler depot. It had to pull out of the GI because Welsh whisky has to be bottled in Wales. Every part of the process has to be done in Wales.
Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appears worldwide and he has been published in over 800 titles.
Photographs courtesy Penderyn Distillery