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A lovely informal evening of cocktail making with Rob Jones, founder and editer of 'Blasus' Magazine. 'Blasus' is a bilingual, independent magazine, which aims to explore the stories, people and creativity behind the welsh food scene.

On the menu were the cocktails Cosmopoliton, Gin or Ange Crush and The Gin Fizz. The cocktails included vodka (five) from Penderyn, Blood orange and Rosemary Gin from Treganna Gin and a Welsh Sisters Gin.

I am not a cocktail connoisseur and I was a bit daunted that the cocktails would be complicated to make and that I would need an endless list of equipment and ingredients! This was farther from the truth, in fact the cocktails were easy to make and all I needed equipment wise was a knife, measurer, chopping board and if I didn’t have a cocktail shaker, I could use a flask! All three were in fact delicious and easy to make!

The concentration of the evening was of course on using Welsh produce and speaking directly to those who produced them. It was fabulous to hear about the various processes of distillation, the products themselves and of course about the people behind the products, especially as I do not have a lot of knowledge about the processes of making spirits! In fact, one of the facts I learnt was that all gins must contain juniper berries otherwise the drink can not  be defined as gin by law.

First up was Penderyn Whisky and spirits. Penderyn whisky is of course well known In Wales, but it is also well known all over the world and is available in 45 countries! On its way it has picked up over 70 double Gold/Gold/Masters awards! Such has been the success of their whisky and spirits, a new distillery opened in Llandudno in May 2021 and there are plans for a further distillery to be built in Swansea in 2022! Although it all began with whisky, they also do a fabulous selection of gin, rum, and vodka which was used in The Gin Fizz cocktail.

The succsess of Penderyn Whisky is impressive stuff considering it began with an idea by a group of friends in a pub in Hirwaun!  I suppose the pub is where most great ideas are dreamt up!  Whisky distilling in Wales was a lost art in the 1990's and this group of friends dreamed of creating a pure and precious Welsh whisky. They chose the village of Penderyn for its creation because of the supply of fresh natural spring water there.

We were told that one of the keys to Penderyn's success was the use of a single copper pot which enabled the all female distillery team to create a clean and flavourful spirit at an industry high of 92% ABV. This is very high in comparison to other distilleries who use the three pot lantern system which produces a spirit that comes off at a industry standard of 67% ABV.

At Penderyn, Whisky is aged and charred in the finest bourbon casts to remove any undesirable  chemical compounds and then is married with the water from the Brecon Beacons! A fabulous combination indeed!

Despite its amazing achievements, the Penderyn brand was no overnight success, it took over 12 years for Penderyn whisky to make profit! I guess good things do come to those who wait!

Next up was Mark Flanagan from Treganna Gin. A one man band with his wife helping with the "admin side" in a distillery in the surburban area of Canton, Cardiff where the gin is  distilled in small batches using copper alembic sills.

Mark was an actor and while finding that work was drying up decided in 2018 to embark on a gin making enterprise. He confessed that gin making was far quicker and a far less complicated process than whisky making!

All was going well with the business plan done, equipment bought and a website established. Then disaster struck- the pandemic! Instead of wallowing though, Mark decided to make hand sanitizer for the local community, seeing as he had the equipment to make it! This in turn gave him some positive exposure, which in turn helped him build his successful brand of gin.

Whilst thinking and experimenting with flavours he came up with the delicious combination of blood orange and rosemary gin. He went about to source the best oranges from Sicily, but again disaster struck when a volcano eruped in Sicily! Mark thought that this was the end of his Sicily orange dream! However, the oranges made it over even though his supplier did admit that they did initially "have some ash on them"!

From what began as a home project producing 20 bottles of gin at a time, a change of location and upgrade in equipment has meant that he is now producing 200 bottles in one go and even sells his gin at the St Ffagans National Museum History shop. You can also buy direct from his website with free delivery and free hand delivery in Cardiff! Mark admits that he prefers if you buy from him direct as he gets more profit this way!

 

Finally, Welsh Sisters gin, two sisters (Becky and Tania) originally from Cardiff, now create and sell award winning dry gin in a old draper's shop called Manchester House at the top of the town of New Quay in Ceredigion. Beginning in 2019, they now sell gin all over the world and their gin 'Morwyn' was awarded Best Contemporary Gin at the Welsh Gin Awards 2021.

The sea and the inspiring tales of women in their community is a huge influence and theme in their gin creations leading to gins named 'Morwyn', Portside and The Captain's Wife. Each gin has its own distinctive flavour and a unique story of women and their experiences of the sea.

The gin name 'Morwyn' was inspired by a sea goddess called 'Morwyn' who loved Rhysen a fisherman who dwelt in Ceredigion during ancient times. The gin Portside is in homage to the captain's wife who when pulled into port seeked her other sea sisters and spent time with them on portside. Whilst the gin The Captains wife is in reference to those Welsh woman from New Quay who sailed the world and who were even accomplished enough to take the ships wheel in the eye of a storm.

Their passion of the sea comes of course partly from growing up on the coast and from the experiences of their parents of the sea. Their father was a captain of square-riggs and windjammers in the West Indies. Whilst their mother was a descendant of the Kidwelly "wreckers" who looted ship wrecks.

In fact, such is their passion for the sea, they donate 1% of the sale each of 'Morwyn' and The Captain's Wife gin to the whale and dolphin conservation. Along with producing great gins these two sisters are leaving a wonderful legacy to the future of their beloved ocean.

And just like that it was the end of the session. An enjoyable, informative and relaxed evening with the added bonus of some lovely drinks! Next time you are after some spirits, please consider these Welsh made gems.

Michelle Cowley

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