For St David’s Day, I wanted to post about a Welsh whisky. And no, it’s not from THAT distillery. Whilst THEY have been flying the flag for Welsh whisky for some 20+ years now, it was Dà Mhìle distillery that actually resulted in Wales being declared a whisky making nation.
Well… European legislation requires that there has to be at least two distilleries producing and marketing whisky in order to get that status. The usual rule applies about the whisky too, so we’re talking a grain-based distilled spirit that has been matured in oak barrels for at least 3 years. And so, after starting production in 2012, when the first organic single grain whisky was bottled by Dà Mhìle in 2016, Wales could officially be described as having its own “whisky industry”.
It was not until 2019/20 however that Dà Mhìle released their first organic single malt whisky, Tarian. The single malt has been produced by the Savage-Onstwedder family at their distillery and working farm: Glynhynod Farm in Llandysul, Ceredigion, Wales. The whisky’s name is a tribute to their original investor in the distillers’ journey to producing whisky. And this single malt has been some 28 years in the making [ed: That’s not to say that it’s a 28 year old whisky!]
As the story goes: the Savage-Onstwedder family wanted to celebrate 10 years of producing their award-winning organic Teifi Cheese with an organic whisky – only to find that there was not such a thing readily available. With that, in 1992, the family commissioned one to produced at none other than Campbeltown legends, Springbank. The whisky was bottled in 1999, ready for the millennium celebrations, and that’s where the name Dà Mhìle comes from. It is Gaelic for Two Thousand. [ed: also, if you’re anything like me, and oblivious to Gaelic pronunciation then you’ve been reading and saying it wrongly: it’s pronounced Da Vee Lay – not the Da Meal or Da Mile options that I had haphazardly plumped for!] From the use of organic barley came the first organic whisky.
A second batch of organic whiskies was then commissioned with Loch Lomond in the year 2000 itself – samples of which I have here and will be posting about shortly – using the Dà Mhìle moniker again.
Then, by 2012, the family had set themselves up to make their own whisky at the family farm.
And so [history lesson over] we come to 2019/20 where they have bottled their first organic single malt whisky, and, coming full circle, I have held onto it for St David’s Day.
Tarian has been aged in a single, first fill Olorosso Sherry cask. There’s no reference to the age of whisky, but is presumably no older than 7-8 years. As you would expect from a business so focussed on nature and purity, the whisky is neither chill-filtered nor coloured, and has been captured at 46% ABV.
Quite a pine fresh, herbal and bitter start. Like angostura bitters actually. That herby smell kinda reminds me of the smell you get out of the Italian Herbs pot from the spice rack. It’s not what I was expecting to start with. With a little time, that herbal edge becomes more of a pronounced minty / menthol flavour. With a lot more time to breathe there’s a sweet and malty chocolate flavour that comes through but it’s still the rosemary, sage and minty menthol flavours that linger.
A real zip of young spirit combined with some more of those herbal notes make for quite a sharp experience at first, but it softens fairly quickly. The sage and menthol notes calm and become more floral, like lavender and peppermint tea. They’re joined by a light citrus and a real sherbet sweetness. The malt base reminds me of barley sugars and sweet cinder toffee. The milk chocolate flavour returns there too. There’s a little liquorice or aniseed to it and a final sherbet fizzle.
A real flash of oak and young spirit burn at the end but for all the herbal tones, there’s a lasting perfumed sweetness – the flavours bring old Victorian sweets to mind.
An unusual but endearing single malt. Not the usual fruits and spices that you would expect from a Sherry cask maturation to impart. Nor does it have a classic malt/barley-led spirit. From the descriptors above however you can see that it has a lot of different flavours to offer. The herbal notes are not ones that I usually enjoy but here, running alongside a variety of sweet notes, it works. ‘Victorian sweets’ was the tasting note that I kept coming back to, like lavender bonbons or herb drops or maybe a medicinal cough sweet. Whichever way you describe it, there’s a quality that makes you come back for a little bit more each time.
I first came across Dà Mhìle in a Christmas market stall a few years ago. I must admit, I was actually drawn in by the cheese. I knew the name Caws Teifi, but when they had a range of spirits at the side, I was definitely going to be stopping at that stall! Lo and behold, we start talking and I asked about the gin and then they actually show me some whisky! The nice people in the small stall told me that Wales has its own organic whisky distillery and there on sale was a 16 year old malt whisky – or ‘XVI’ as it was written – and for quite the handsome price! I was left reeling. How did I not know about this distillery from Wales – knowing only the name of Penderyn to be in production at the time – and they had already hit 16 years??? Well, they explained the story at the start of this post to me and it all became clear. They only had a 70cl bottle available and it was at a price that I was not willing to gamble with at the time [ed: though we did buy some cheese], so it has taken me some time to sample their wares and I’m glad that I have.
Taking a look at their site now I can see that the Tarian is no longer on sale, though I believe that some outlets still may have it in stock. The site does have some unusual looking bottlings remaining from that original Springbank distillation. For me, I wouldn’t want a wedding edition that marked someone else’s wedding, nor a bottling to commemorate someone else’s newborn – particularly with a picture of their newborn – but each unto their own. These are wonderful landmarks to be marked by a good malt and I’m sure that the family celebrated well. It does appear however that the Tarian recipe or template has now been used to create their own core single malt whisky, bearing the Dà Mhìle brand and the name Glynhynod, the name of their farm. I’d be keen to see what the extra maturation has done to the malt and to see where they are going, and if it is as ‘unusual but endearing’ as the Tarian.
What with this release, the ongoing success of Penderyn, and the upcoming release of Aber Falls’ first whisky release this year, it seems like the future is bright for Welsh Whisky or ‘Chwisgi Cymreig’.
Iechyd Da & Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant Hapus
Sample disclosure: I bought this sample following a repeat visit to the Caws Teifi / Dà Mhìle Christmas market stall a couple of year later in Chester. All notes are intended as an honest, fair and independent review of the whisky, and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.