A couple of years ago, a friend turned up at a party we were holding with a bottle of gin. Welsh gin. Organic gin. There was about a quarter of a bottle left when she arrived, none when she left. "Pretty good gin", I thought. So imagine my surprise and delight when, not long after we arrived in this most westerly part of Wales, that we were a mere couple of miles away from the Da Mhile gin distillery...
You don't have to look too hard on here to know that my tipple of choice is a G&T. I don't know when it first wheedled its way to the top of my list of alcoholic refreshment - certainly not during my student days when Mad Dog 20 20 and pints of 'Blastaway' topped the list (cheap, effective); nor during my time living in France, where red wine, sold by the litre and decanted direct into your own plastic bottles at the tabac, and tequila, were the drinks of choice. Perhaps it was while the Husband and I were dancing around each other in the early days of our relationship, mostly at various military black tie 'dos' where a G&T was de rigeur 'before dinner' (unless it was the summer when Pimms was OK)....
As I have tasted different gins, I have come to appreciate that there is gin and there is gin. A green bottle, once something I considered to be the height of sophistication, would now be something of a last resort, and I am half alarmed to find that I now classify gin, secretly (although clearly not so secretly now I've shared), quietly, into 'everyday' gin and 'special gin'. There's also gin for adulterating (sloes, bullace plums...). A quick recce reveals that I have no less than 7 different gins knocking around at home at the moment, clearly covering every eventuality. And let's not even start to talk about tonic.
Which brings me neatly on to Dà Mhìle.
There's been a huge upsurge in the craft gin movement over the last few years which only serves to fuel my interest: a highlight of going to CarFest South a couple of years ago was meeting the Warner Edwards boys and cracking open a bottle of their elderflower gin to drink with some fever tree tonic in the late afternoon sun with a great friend before Scouting for Girls appeared on stage; a trip to the Good Food show 18 months ago now sticks largely in my mind for the variety of different gins I had tasted before 11:00 a.m. (a girl has to make the most of these occasions...); my epic trip to the London Gin Club last November...
I visited Dà Mhìle (pronounced "da-vee-lay" - it's Scots gaelic for 2,000 - I'll explain later) with a friend a couple of weeks ago - a beautiful sunny day, which also happened to be my birthday - great timing, don't you think!
After a couple of false turns on the road, it being much harder to follow google maps on a phone round here where the roads are small, twisty and mostly unlabelled, we turned off down the mile long track from the main road, signed for Caws Teifi - the award winning, and frankly delicious, cheese also made here - and landed up in what first appeared to be a largely deserted farmyard complete with scratching chickens and a couple of old tractors. Still, our host, Mike, met us and took us into the distillery which is housed in what was previously a cow shed.
The place itself has a great history - it's been home of Caws Teifi award winning cheese since 1982, although production moved to a purpose built facility on the farm in 2004, freeing up space for the distillery. The farm and land was purchased by Dutch cheesemakers John & Patrice Savage-Onstwedder and Paula Vanwerkhoven who moved to this part of Wales from the Netherlands in the 70s. Cheese making established, John wanted to make whisky, and commissioned the first organic whisky, distilled from 11 tonnes of organic Welsh barley he had delivered to the Springbank Distillery in Scotland. The resulting single malt, 7 years old, 2,000 bottles for the millenium, hence 'da mhile' is much sort after by collectors and incredibly delicious if you're a whisky fan, but this is all about the gin.
Once the cheese operation moved to the new facility, the distillery could become a reality. The operation is still in the early days - the licence having been granted in 2010, and it taking another 3 years to start production. Gin, with its relatively quick turnaround from alcohol to bottle, is where it's at today, although some whisky is made available every year.
Mike explained the history of the operation at Glynhynod Farm - from cheese to gin, and then took us to meet the beautiful still and explained the distilling process to us
At Da Mhile, they focus on small batches of gin - and other spirits -the distillery licence is for only 350 litres. But while the batches may be small, they are unfeasibly delicious. The first product of the distillery, an orange liqueur, won a True Taste Award for its first batch.
The distillery now produces 3 gins: the botanical gin which my friend brought along to the party I mentioned, a seaweed infused gin and an oak-aged gin which has the smoky hints of the fresh 2013 single grain whisky barrels that the gin is kept in before bottling.
If you visit the distillery, you can taste these beauties in the amazing gallery that's been constructed over the distillery - a beautiful warm light space used to art exhibitions as well as gin drinking, with views across the lush wooded valley - a Welsh paradise. However, it's well worth looking Da Mhile gin out wherever you are because it's wonderful.
The botanical gin is smooth, infused, I'm told, with 20 botanicals. I'm not gong to flatter myself that I know how to describe gin in high faluting terms, or insult you, so I shall leave it to the tasting notes from the website "The nose is subtle fresh rose petals, then spice and a hint of juniper. The initial palate is floral with bitter, fresh notes of dandelion and peppery cloves. The texture is silky, exuding a superb botanical mouth-feel finished by intense juniper tones and peppermint cool." Whatever, It's lush.Try it with Fever Tree elderflower tonic. You'll thank me.
The seaweed gin, a delicate pale green, is a less complex gin, and is then infused in seaweed, which comes, dried, from the West coast of Ireland. Apparently, seaweed gathered on the local beaches on the West Wales coast can't be classed as organic because of the possibility of pollution, so farmed seaweed from the West Coast of Ireland is the next best thing - and makes for a different and very enjoyable gin., designed to compliment seafood and lay the ghost that says you shouldn't drink gin with oysters- this is something I intend to address myself at the earliest opportunity, given that I remember necking a G&T in a smart restaurant once before my starter of oysters turned up for this very reason...
The oak-aged gin is something very different, akin to a Dutch Jenever. The fact that it's aged in whisky barrels is apparent both from the colour, a pale gold, and the taste. I can confidently say that it's unlike any gin I've ever tasted, and really delicious, although the smokiness may not be to everyone's taste. It's a warming drink, definitely one for winter evenings.
So which to choose? Well, in the end, and because it was my birthday, I bought a bottle of each. All special gin, each different. We bought some cheese too. Then my friend and I headed off for a late lunch...
If you're close enough to visit, or on holiday in the area, you're welcome to go along and check out the distillery for yourself, although this is no slick visitor centre operation - you'll get up close to the process (and the odd chicken), shown round by the people actually involved in the distilling process who can answer all your questions. The best times to visit are 11 and 3 p.m. - best to get in touch with them first.