Premium Welsh spirits will always be our main focus at In the Welsh Wind distillery, but our journey has opened up other avenues and interests for us, not least, the magic of craft vinegar. Our ‘lockdown project’ has given us the opportunity to meet some genuinely interesting and creative people and businesses who are quietly doing amazing things around us here in west Wales. Not far from the distillery, nestled into the side of a tiny and supremely peaceful valley, is Wenallt Hive where Marion Dunn creates her own award-winning Welsh honey vinegar.
Welsh Vinegar from Bees?
Whereas we started with beer for our Welsh Cask Vinegar, already brewed by Bluestone Brewing Co, Marion’s vinegar journey starts with her bees. When we visited to chat in more depth about her process, and to take the photos that accompany this piece, she was relieved that her almond tree was tentatively starting to flower. Food for the bees. Nature doing her thing after the winter. Under the watchful eye of her vigilant ‘neighbours’, Marion took us down to her hives and showed us round her production shed where she produces not just Welsh honey vinegar, but a myriad of other products all from her land.
Local Bees are the Best Bees
Marion has been keeping bees for almost 20 years, and it's the honey they produce that is the starting point for her Welsh honey vinegar. “Local bees are always the best type of bees to keep” Marion explains. “They are properly adapted to the local climate. The bees that came with us from Surrey found it difficult to survive here as the climate is a lot wetter.”
After a long search to find the right place to settle in west Wales, Marion managed to secure a local swarm and started again. Even on a blustery, grey March day, the cluster of hives a short walk from her stone cottage show signs of activity, with bees going about their business.
From the honey, Marion started to make mead. Traditionally made, using the ‘washings’ from the honey cappings, Marion soon began to win praise for the mead she was making – but even though she won awards, she was reluctant to do more with it as a product ‘in its own right’. Speaking honestly, she says “I didn’t like it personally – and there is a huge amount of paperwork involved in selling alcohol covering licences and duty. It was something I didn’t want to get involved with.” Thinking creatively, though, she saw the potential for creating a Welsh honey vinegar from the mead, and from that thought came what is now a Great Taste ‘3 star’ product – winner of the coveted Golden Fork for Wales in 2020.
The ’mother’ of all tasks
As we discovered on our own vinegar journey, Marion’s mead needed a ‘mother’ to perform the alchemy that turns alcohol to vinegar. There is a huge amount of folklore around what is essentially a very natural product. Harnessing natural bacteria, Marion creates her own mother, which, in beautiful synchronicity with the ambient temperature of her production shed, morphs over time, bringing subtle nuances to the final product.
Marion also enhances her vinegar with the addition of home grown produce for additional flavour. Horseradish, damsons, and raspberries, all grown at Wenallt, bring further depth and interest – and in the case of the raspberry version, the coveted Golden Fork too.
As with many good things, the vinegar process takes time – from the fermentation of the honey into mead, the time taken for the mother to do its thing, and finally, in some cases, the addition of further flavour. There’s no ‘quick fix’ – but therein lies the beauty of the end result. Small batch and hyper local it’s a true taste of west Wales in a bottle.
If you’d like to try some of Marion’s vinegar and honey or other products for yourself, please visit her website. Marion has kindly shared her recipe for her Raspberry and Rhubarb Shrub which we’ll be sharing on to you soon – and using to mix up some cocktails to try at home. Sign up to our Newsletter to get our latest serves, and other distillery news, straight to your inbox!