When did we conceive of a West Wales whisky? It’s hard to pinpoint. Many whisky distillers turn to gin as a complementary line of production – the relative speed with which it takes to get even a top quality batch of gin supports cash flow and provides a useful income stream while time ticks by and the whisky matures. But we started with gin.
As we trod the path that led us to setting up In the Welsh Wind Distillery, we were inspired by the small craft gin distillers of the Scottish highlands that we discovered on our journey around the iconic North Coast 500 – small batch gin, expressions of the local area; foraged botanicals; stills rescued from the scrap heap, tight knit teams working together to produce something beautiful in a bottle.
And yet, from the early days of the distillery, we dreamed of a whisky still. As our dreams grew, we imagined more. Imagined harvesting grain from our doorstep, malting it here in West Wales. We envisioned a bespoke still room, and a cask room, barrels of golden liquor dozing in the Welsh wind until a time when we could unleash them on the world. We’d experimented early on with infusing the flavours of a locality into our gins – why not develop the idea of terroir and create a perfect expression of our beloved corner of Ceredigion in whisky form. A true West Wales whisky, from grain to glass, all production within striking distance of where we live and work, linking the East coast of Ireland and the West Coast of Scotland in a sweeping Celtic barley crescent.
The language of crops
Dreams are one thing, the reality quite another. Early on in our journey to Welsh whisky, we work with the heroes of the land – the agronomist, expert in the ways crops and sustainability, guiding us as we understand our soil and choose our seed; the local farmers who have taken the leap of faith with us to turn their soil for our barley. We learn a new language. One that speaks of the high-tech world farming has become. Updates on sowing refer to seed rates and drill depths; autosteer guidance and application. It is a language we are keen to grasp, fully immersing ourselves in the reality of what we are seeking to achieve.
And after the roar of the tractors, turning the earth, drilling the seed, the stillness of the earth returns, nurturing the grain and so quickly encouraging shoots – thousands of shoots – bursting from the ground. In a few short weeks, what was once scrubby ground, admittedly neglected by us as we focused on the work inside the distillery, is transformed into a chlorophyll swathe carpeting the land between the coast road and the distillery. It is hard to be patient, to understand that we are on a journey, when before our eyes, the land is giving so generously.
The West Wales whisky journey
We are just at the start of our journey to West Wales whisky. Our crops need to grow and thrive, to be harvested. We will need to check and assess the different varieties before deciding which will be best for malting. We have a still room to finish and a malting house to construct. Like all good things, our West Wales whisky will take time – but we have time in abundance: and the rewards will be great!