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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Dà Mhìle

5 must-try bottlings from certified organic distilleries

What makes a distillery ‘organic’? Increasingly, distillers are applying this sustainable practice to their entire production process – and they have the paperwork to prove it. Here, we take a closer…

What makes a distillery ‘organic’? Increasingly, distillers are applying this sustainable practice to their entire production process – and they have the paperwork to prove it. Here, we take a closer look at five certified organic spirits distilleries around the world…

It’s not something we like to think about when sipping on a Gin & Tonic, but the raw ingredients used to make our favourite spirits are typically cultivated and harvested using industrial farming systems that are – shall we say – not particularly great for the planet. But thanks to a handful of eco-conscious distillers, organic practices are beginning to take root in the drinks world, with more and more producers seeking formal certification. 

But what does ‘organic’ mean in practical terms when we’re talking about spirits production? From a regulatory perspective, there’s no definitive answer, since the exact standards vary slightly from country to country. More broadly, ‘organic means working with nature,’ the Soil Association – one of the eight government-approved organic control bodies in the UK – states. ‘Lower levels of pesticides, no manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers and more environmentally sustainable management of the land and natural environment, which means more wildlife.’ 

The Oxford Artisan Distillery set a precedent last month, becoming the UK’s first certified organic grain-to-glass distillery. Working with archaeo-botanist John Letts – who specialises in resurrecting ancient grains in genetically diverse fields, without the use of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or fertilisers – the team grow organic heritage grain, malt and botanicals for their ‘seed-to-still’ spirits. While master distiller Cory Mason has produced spirits according to this philosophy since 2017, due to organic certification rules, he was unable to put it on the bottle.

organic distilleries

Archaeo-botanist John Letts specialises in resurrecting ancient grains in genetically diverse fields

Our drive to become certified came after talking to our customers on distillery tours – it became clear that people find it easier to understand sustainable farming and heritage grain when it’s linked with organic farming,” he explains. “In many ways, if you are already using certified products, the process of getting certification is a paperwork and audit check. The process starts with an audit from a Soil Association inspector, and they recommend a series of actions to implement in order to get certified. Because we are a seed-to-still distillery using organic products, our actions were about improving control and documentation rather than changing our sources.”

It’s a similar story for Chicago-based Koval Distillery, which sources its grain from a cooperative of organic farmers in the Midwest. The certification process involves “making sure that our whole supply chain has been certified organic for the past three years – at least,” says co-founder and president Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart. “All of our records are checked in a yearly audit, and any changes in suppliers or products also involve an audit from our regulating agency. It is really about oversight, transparency, and traceability. We are able to trace each bottle to the field on which the grains were grown – a field that has been growing organically for at least three years, with its own third party inspections and documentation.”

Farming organically is not without challenges. Organic crops typically have lower yields, partly due to restricted use of artificial herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or fertilisers. “There are derogations available – such as the use of copper sulphate as a fungicide, to help tackle mildew – but more often than not, organic farmers try to create conditions that support self-sustaining biological systems, as opposed to being reliant on synthetic chemical inputs,” explains Robert Savage, director at Dà Mhìle Distillery in Wales. “Many of them – such as routinely-used glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide – have detrimental impacts on local biodiversity and human health.”

organic distilleries

In spirits production, the standards of what constitutes organic vary from country to country

In any case, organic farming is more than simply ditching synthetic chemicals. Restorative crop rotations, for example, are an integral part of growing grains organically. “This system helps build the soil’s fertility, improves soil structure and encourages biological activity,” Savage explains. “Cover crops can decrease leaching of nutrients, increase organic matter and assist with weed management… but these same crops sometimes increase the risk of pests and disease, and reduce the opportunity for weed control. Some of these things you just have to learn to live with.” 

Organic spirits may be more time consuming and expensive to produce, but they represent a step towards a more sustainable way of living. “Intensive farming has had a catastrophic effect on wildlife, it depletes the soil and contributes to global warming,” Mason says. “Scientists are linking pesticides to illnesses like cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. There has never been a more urgent need to explore less toxic and more nurturing ways of growing our food.” The contents of your glass seem like a great way to start – we take a look at five certified organic tipples from across the world to whet your environmentally-conscious whistle…

organic distilleries

The Oxford Artisan Distillery Company, England

MoM recommends: Spirit of Toad Oxford Dry Gin

The Oxford Artisan Distillery’s approach to spirits production involves a sustainable farming system that “goes beyond organic in terms of a positive impact on the environment,” says Mason. Its wheat, rye and barley grain are grown from varieties that were common before 1904, when plant breeders first created the hybrid ‘monoculture’ varieties – genetically uniform crops where every plant in the field is a clone of its neighbour.

They can’t adapt to climatic change and are vulnerable to disease, pests and drought. Because they are all short, they can’t compete with weeds. ‘Yields can be enormous in a good year if the fields are dosed with nitrogen fertilizer and dowsed regularly with fungicides, pesticides and herbicides, but they will fail or underperform if conditions aren’t perfect,’ says Mason.

By contrast, the so-called ‘landraces’ grown in the past are genetically diverse, resilient and adaptable. Each plant in the field is different, creating a crop which is more vigorous, healthy and hardy, without the need for chemicals. “Most of these are tall with deep roots which creates a leaf canopy that is untroubled by shorter weeds and supports a lively ecosystem,” says Mason.

“It is a little like having an Amazon rainforest in an English field,” he continues. “Every part of a landrace sustains the agro-ecosystem – from microorganisms in the soil, to insects buzzing and birds flying above. “Unlike monocultures, these crops can respond to the challenges of natural selection and adapt to environmental shifts. They are natural, vigorous plants and the crop gains strength through its diversity.”

organic distilleries

Casa Noble, Mexico

MoM recommends: Casa Noble Blanco Tequila

The Casa Noble Tequila Company was established in 1776, making it one of the oldest producers of 100% blue agave Tequila. In the early nineties, seventh-generation maestro Tequilero Pepe Hermosillo decided to follow in his ancestors’ footsteps, founding what would become the first Tequila distillery to achieve certified organic status.

The blue agave sourced for Casa Noble Tequila is grown and cultivated on an estate in the lowlands and harvested after 11 years having reached full maturity. You won’t find any fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides in those fields, since the nutrients found naturally in the region’s volcanic soil do a far better job. Wild yeast cultivated at the distillery is used to ferment the piñas.

organic distilleries

Koval Distillery, Illinois

MoM recommends: Koval Bourbon Whiskey

The first distillery in Chicago since the mid-1800s, Koval Distillery has been producing certified organic and kosher grain-to-glass whiskies, gins, liqueurs, and more for over a decade. Supporting sustainable agriculture, founders Robert and Sonat Birnecker source grain from local organic Midwestern farms, and use non-GMO yeasts and enzymes in the on-site milling and mashing process. 

“Using organic grains for us is, in part, about supporting sustainable agriculture, and those who work very hard to grow without pesticides,” says Dr Birnecker Hart. “We also like the flavour and aroma we get from the organic grains and believe that using them elevates the spirits both physically and symbolically.”

Each of the American Oak barrels used to age Koval’s whiskies is crafted locally at The Barrel Mill in Minnesota. And since they’re all single barrel bottlings, the liquid within can be traced back to the specific shipment of raw materials they were created from. And of course, botanicals are locally-sourced too, from chrysanthemum flowers to organic wildflower honey. “We also do not use any chemical flavourings or colourings,” adds Dr Birnecker Hart. “In fact, we do not use any flavourings or colouring at all – even those that would be considered ‘ok’. Everything in our bottles is just the all-natural, lush flavours of the organic grains, berries, and spices used in our spirits.”

organic distilleries

Spirit of Hven Distillery, Sweden

MoM recommends: Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No.1 Dubhe

Producing organic vodka, gin, aquavit, single malt whisky, rye whisky and more, you’ll find Spirit of Hven distillery on the island of Ven (Hven is the older Swedish spelling). Located in the strait of Öresund between Denmark and Sweden, it’s around three square miles in size with a population of fewer than 400 people.

Fitting, then, that Ven is home to one of the world’s smallest commercial pot still distilleries. At Spirit of Hven, every single step of the spirits-making process – mashing, fermentation, distilling, maturation and bottling – is carried out at site, using only certified organic ingredients sourced locally.

organic distilleries

Dà Mhìle Distillery, Wales

MoM recommends:  Mhìle Apple Brandy

Dà Mhìle’s founder John Savage-Onstwedder commissioned the first organic whisky (of the modern era) back in 1992, which was distilled at Scotland’s Springbank Distillery. He went on to work with Loch Lomond on the first organic single grain, distilled in 2000, and then – as any whisky-lover would – blended them together to create the first organic blended whisky. From there, he went on to build Dà Mhìle Distillery on his family farm in West Wales, which has produced a wide range of organic spirits – from single malt whisky to apple brandy, savoury seaweed gin to oak-matured rum – since 2012, all created by John’s eldest son, John-James.

Many people see organic farming as a new fad,” says Savage. “Yet less than 120 years ago, organic agriculture was the norm. We’ve accepted that organic grain yields will be inherently lower than conventionally grown grains, due to lower inputs and less chemical intervention. However, the long term benefits to biodiversity and the environment outweigh the loss in yield at harvest time. If you want to do your bit for the environment, choose organic.”

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Celebrate St. David’s Day with wonderful Welsh tipples

St. David’s Day is a day of celebration of both St David’s life and of the Welsh culture, so why not enjoy the festivities this year with a wonderfully Welsh…

St. David’s Day is a day of celebration of both St David’s life and of the Welsh culture, so why not enjoy the festivities this year with a wonderfully Welsh tipple?

March 1st isn’t just the first day of spring, but a very special day in the Welsh calendar – St. David’s Day, of course! To some it might be the country of daffodils, unpronounceable towns and Sir Tom Jones, but to us here at MoM Towers, we see a land with a long and notable history of alcohol production and a modern industry that is currently booming. Whether it’s craft beer, climate-defying wines, sublime gins or the emerging array of fab Welsh whiskies, there really is something for everyone.

St. David’s Day is the perfect time of year to check out the results for yourself. Whether you’re a non-Welsh person looking for something new or a Welsh native that wants to champion and reconnect with their roots, you can toast the country’s national day with a local tipple. Cooking up a feast of leek dishes accompanied by lamb, mutton and Welsh cake isn’t the only way to mark the occasion. Take a leek look (sorry) at these delectable St. David’s Day drinks that we’ve selected to celebrate the patron saint of Wales.

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus*, everyone!

Cygnet Gin

The first tipple on our list hails from Swansea and was created by master distiller and Cygnet Distillery director Dai Wakely, in what he described as “the only live micro gin distillery in Wales”. The botanica list includes juniper, lemon peel, lime peel, pink grapefruit peel, orange peel, liquorice root, orris root, coriander seed, angelica root, cardamom seed, almond and chamomile.

What does it taste like?:

Floral at first, with chamomile playing a big part on the nose. Fresh citrus peel give it a vibrant palate, joined by a bite of juniper and coriander spice.

Saintly serve: The Red Dragon

A fantastically fun and fruity tribute to the Welsh emblem and pride of the Welsh flag, The Red Dragon is a punchy, patriotic serve that’s incredibly easy to make. To create, simply add 30ml of Cygnet Gin, 30ml of Grand Marnier, 25ml blood orange juice, 25ml lemon juice and 3ml grenadine in a chilled glass together with ice. Shake well and then strain the mix into a chilled glass. Garnishing with an orange peel and belt out a resounding edition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau should you be so inclined.

Barti Ddu Spiced

Inspired by famous Pembrokeshire Pirate, ‘Barti Ddu’, (or ‘Black Bart’ in English), The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company crafted this spirit using a blend of Caribbean rums spiced with notes of vanilla, cloves and orange and one special, appropriately patriotic ingredient: Pembrokeshire laver seaweed, also known as Welshman’s caviar.

What does it taste like?:

Warm, rich baking spices, marmalade, toffee apples, red cola cubes, vanilla and a wave of coastal saltiness.

Saintly serve: Pistol Proof

Who doesn’t love the modern classic that is the Espresso Martini? This Barti Ddu take on the serve is designed to make you ‘Pistol Proof’, something Barti Ddu himself was known for. To create, put 30ml of Barti Ddu Spiced, 35ml of St. George Nola Coffee Liqueur, 25ml of Reyka Vodka, 25ml of sugar syrup and lastly 25ml of fresh espresso into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds before straining into chilled Martini glasses (20 minutes in the freezer should do it). Dust with nutmeg, then try to avoid any terrible pirate impressions as you serve.

Penderyn Portwood

Penderyn managed to forge itself quite a reputation for producing some mighty fine single Port cask releases, so it was only a matter of time before the Welsh distillery created a single malt bottling for its core range. The whisky, which was initially matured in ex-bourbon casks and then in Portwood casks, received recognition in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible in 2018 with a Liquid Gold Award.

What does it taste like?:

Sweet, jammy and creamy with some toffee, rich fruit, plum wine, sweet goji berries and wood spice.

Saintly serve: Iechyd Da

A toast to good health, the Iechyd Da is a simple but effective way to make great use of this delicious Welsh whisky. To create, simply pour 50ml of Penderyn Portwood, a bar spoon of Welsh honey, 10ml blood orange juice, 2 dashes of Angostura Orange Bitters and ice into a tumblr. Stir vigorously and garnish with a twist of orange peel. Serve and try to pronounce ‘Iechyd Da’ correctly (yeah-ch-id dah).

Aber Falls Orange Marmalade Gin

Aber Falls is North Wales’ first whisky distillery in over 100 years and we’re big fans, as you can probably tell from this blog post. While whisky stocks mature the brand has released a slew of seriously tasty liqueurs and flavoured gins such as the Aber Falls Orange Marmalade Gin, which may well be as good on toast as it is in a Citrus Fizz…

What does it taste like?:

Fresh orange juice, with a punchy kick of dried juniper. A bit pithy at points.

Saintly serve: Citrus Fizz

We decided to go with the Citrus Fizz here and not toast for reasons we’re sure you’ll understand. This cocktail is as refreshing as it gets and it couldn’t be simpler to create. In a chilled glass add 25ml of Aber Falls Orange Marmalade Gin, 50ml of dry white wine (something like Isabel Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017), 75ml of soda water and plenty of cubed ice. Stir well and then garnish with orange zest. Serve and figure out how to actually pair gin and toast together later.

Penderyn Legend

If you want to toast the patron saint of Wales with a great Welsh whisky, then one with the red dragon proudly adoringin the label seems a sensible choice. Penderyn Legend is another rather tasty Welsh single malt whisky from the brand, who matured this spirit in bourbon barrels and finished it in ex-Madeira casks. It’s received a slew of awards, including Gold at in the European Single Malt – Premium category at The World Whisky Masters (The Spirits Business) in 2018.

What does it taste like?:

Rich and well-balanced, with dried fruit, dark chocolate, green apples, cream fudge and vanilla.

Saintly serve: Dewi Sant

This recipe was actually created as part of a St David’s Day celebratory menu in Donovan Bar, London by bar manager Armand Wysocki. All you need to do to create your own interpretation is add 50ml of Penderyn Legend, 25ml of Noilly Prat Original Dry, a dash of Angostura Orange Bitters and a dash of sugar into a Martini glass and stir well. Garnish with a lemon twist and raise a glass to Dewi Sant (St. David)!

Hibernation Gin

From Dyfi Distillery comes the delicious Hibernation Gin, which was crafted with some fantastic foraged ingredients including bilberries, crab apples and blackberries. Post-distillation the gin spends time maturing in white Port casks from the legendary Port house Niepoort.

What does it taste like?:

Gloriously bright and fruit-forward, with fresh white grapes and green apple, tempered by oily juniper and Alpine herbs. Slowly develops a subtly oak-y warmth on the mid-palate.

Saintly serve: Negroni

Add a dose of hearty Welshness to this Italian classic by combining 25ml of Hibernation Gin, 25ml of Campari and 25ml of Martini Rosso vermouth together in a cocktail shaker. Shake well with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel, grate some fresh ginger on top and serve alongside a wholesome helping of cawl.

Dà Mhìle Apple Brandy

Dà Mhìle is another very impressive Welsh distillery with a range of interesting products, including this organic Apple Brandy. It’s crafted using wild apples from the brand’s own farm and nearby valleys, which were first made into cider and then quadruple distilled. The spirit was then matured for a year in barrels which has previously held French red wine.

What does it taste like?:

Sharp and sweet apple, brown sugar, butterscotch and a little oak spice.

Saintly serve: The Apple Old Fashioned

The Old-Fashioned gets a gloriously autumnal makeover here in this tasty serve. To make, start by stirring together a teaspoon of maple syrup with a few good dashes of Angostura Orange Bitters in an old-fashioned glass. Then add ice and 80ml of Dà Mhìle Apple Brandy. Garnish with a wedge of green apple and serve.

Brecon Special Reserve Gin

Penderyn don’t just make fine whisky, but delicious gin as well! Brecon Special Reserve Gin was distilled with a host of botanicals sourced from all over the world, such as juniper from Macedonia, orange peel from Spain, Chinese cassia bark, Sri Lankan liquorice, Madagascan cinnamon, French angelica root, Russian coriander, Indian nutmeg, Spanish lemon peel and Italian orris root. Very impressive stuff indeed.

What does it taste like?:

Juniper, warm citrus, coriander and hints of spicy cinnamon.

Saintly serve: Smoky Welsh Martini

Martinis are such a versatile and tasty serve. This edition adds a little smokiness via a tasty Welsh whisky. To make, you just need to pour 75ml of Brecon Special Reserve Gin and 5ml Penderyn Peated Whisky into a Martini glass filled with ice. Stir well and then garnish with a fresh lemon peel, or a bit of leek if you’re feeling particularly patriotic/brave.

 

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10 genuinely epic single grains from across the globe

If you’re of the opinion that single grain whisky is ‘all mouth, no trousers’ – as in, multiple cereals but zero flavour – you’re very sadly mistaken. Here, we’ve picked…

If you’re of the opinion that single grain whisky is ‘all mouth, no trousers’ – as in, multiple cereals but zero flavour – you’re very sadly mistaken. Here, we’ve picked out 10 of the most sumptuous single grains the world has to offer. Tasting glasses at the ready…

It’s quaffable, affordable, and forms the backbone of many a blended whisky: could it be time to cut single grain some slack? David Beckham obviously thinks so, and we’re inclined to agree (though this list is, we assure you, Haig-free).

In reality, the things that many would consider to be grain whisky’s biggest weaknesses – light in character, industrial, no grain off-limits – have been transformed into the category’s greatest strengths by diligent distillers.

Now, I’m pretty nosy, so I wanted to find out a little bit more about the kinds of grains you can expect to find in each bottling. Easier said than done, because this information generally isn’t readily available.

So, where possible I’ve included the variety of grain each distillery primarily dabbles in (or dabbled, should it now be silent), so you can draw your own conclusions if you so wish…

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The Nightcap: 6 July

Happy Friday, team! Summer is ON (at least here in the UK) and there’s a certain football match on the agenda tomorrow… But before that comes around, it’s time to…

Happy Friday, team! Summer is ON (at least here in the UK) and there’s a certain football match on the agenda tomorrow… But before that comes around, it’s time to get an update from the world of booze. Bring on The Nightcap!

This week brought with it a new month as well as a whole new cohort of booze goings on – and of course a new Dram Club box for our subscribers, too! We took a sneak peek inside those packs of tastiness on Sunday.

On Monday we looked back to Fèis Ìle 2018 when Kilchoman founder Anthony Wills shared his plans for the distillery expansion project, and got part three of Annie’s Bourbon Series – this time it was Rob Samuels from Maker’s Mark in the spotlight.

The Glencairn glass has become synonymous with spirits (whisky in particular), and on Tuesday we met the family behind the business. Sales are soaring – it seems we can’t get enough fancy glassware to hold our boozes!

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