One of the only truly Welsh Gins available, Dà Mhìle is establishing a reputation for being authentic, crafted with love and affection – and more than just a bit different.
Dà Mhìle (pronounced da-vee-lay) Distillery began its journey in 1992, when John Savage-Onstwedder, one of the founders of renowned Teifi Farmhouse Cheese and himself an organic farmer, commissioned the world famous Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown, Scotland to produce the world’s first organic whisky of the modern era. The idea was to commemorate the eagerly anticipated new millennium – the year 2000. This is where the distillery took its name – Dà Mhìle is Gaelic for two thousand.
Springbank produced fifteen hogsheads out of the eleven tonnes of organic barley John had delivered to the distillery. Five of the fifteen original hogsheads are still maturing. While not famous the world over, the original release of Dà Mhìle Whisky is now sought after by many collectors. Their name as one of the few organic distilleries in the UK is now more than simply established.
Fast-forward eighteen years to 2010, John decided to apply to HMRC for a distiller’s license to run a 350 litre copper pot-still. The problem up until this point was that UK guidelines stated that the smallest pot-still for which a license could be granted would have to be 15 hectolitres big.
Nonetheless with change in the air (Sipsmith were going through a similar process for a rectifiers license and Chase Gin had already made inquiries before eventually settling for a larger still) he was encouraged to apply by a sympathetic HMRC officer.
A few months later, HMRC issued John with a distiller’s license, one of the first distiller’s license issued for a 350 litre still in the UK. However, it took another three years to jump through the other hoops to acquire all the licenses needed to actually start distilling (such as warehouse keeper’s license etc…). In the autumn of 2012, First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones opened the distillery.
The team now consists of John and his eldest son, John-James, who trained with Kilchoman Distillery in Scotland. They are also joined by distiller, Mike Melrose. The team are focused on creating whiskey and have been steadily laying barrels to rest alongside making other products which for the purpose of a gin review we’ll just glaze over…
The second product to officially launch from the distillery was Dà Mhìle Botanical Farmhouse Gin. Bottled at 42% ABV the gin is made with twenty botanicals. All the usual suspects are in the line up – juniper, angelica and coriander to name a few, but there are also slightly lesser used botanicals such as rose petals, fennel and star anise. Dà Mhìle also grow a few botanicals on their farm – chamomile, elderflower, red and white clover and gorse (gorse flowers are edible and can be used in salads, tea and to make a non-grape-based fruit wine).
The gin is distilled in a still which is heated by a wood fired steam boiler, so unlike most distillers, Mike Melrose’s day starts by bringing in wood and lighting the fire! He adopts a very slow distillation process, allowing the longest possible time to get the flavours from all the botanicals and spices in the pot. By carefully balancing the ferocity of the fire and the steam pressure valves to ensure a slow and steady stream of alcohol, Melrose is able to extract the aromas he wants over a period of five to eight hours.
Dà Mhìle Botanical Farmhouse Gin to taste…
To taste there is plenty of classic gin flavours although these vanish fast, in favour of fennel, rose and a mentholic almost eucalyptol like tone that leads to a peppermint finish. Rose is also apparent on the finish too, all the while – juniper has transformed from green to resinous.
It’s an interesting gin with quite a flavour journey. Its bold and unique profile will be polarizing for many as gin fans will either love it or hate it. In many ways, this is the quality we admire the most about Dà Mhìle Botanical Farmhouse Gin. They were brave enough to create a new type of gin that is unique. They did so the right way too – taking a grain to glass approach growing their own where possible, whilst ensuring the rest of the produce is organic (incidentally, their gin is one of the few British gins to actually be certified as Organic). We’ve enjoyed it many times over the years and prefer it in a G&T with a mint garnish, however, the gin is smooth and complex, so try it on its own first as you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to sip neat.
Not content with having one gin, Dà Mhìle Distillery launched a seaweed infused gin on 1st of March 2014. Dà Mhìle’s Organic Seaweed Farmhouse Botanical Gin to give it its full name (try saying that in a bar once your’ve had a few..!), is made with a cut-down selection of botanicals used in their original offering and was specifically designed to complement seafood.
The idea was born in late 2013. Having made a seaweed cheese on their farm (which receives great feedback from customers), the team had always thought of other uses for the ingredient. Aware that Laver Bread is one of the historical dishes of Wales, alongside the running joke that seaweed is even referred to as Welshman’s caviar, they began experimenting with using seaweed in gin.
To create their desired flavour profile – the team had to reduce the number of botanicals from their original small batch gin and introduce some that are more commonly associated with seafood, mixing herbs and spices in with their spirit. In doing so, they created a more balanced backbone that could be accentuated by a unique infusion.
After distillation, the gin is infused with fresh seaweed from the Newquay coast for up to three weeks, giving it a captivating green hue before being triple filtered and bottled at 42% ABV.
Talking to Gin Foundry as part of a wider interview, Melrose commented on the gin: “‘Seaweed gin’ to a lot of people sounds like an oxymoron, unfathomable and certainly not complimenting. But most people don’t really know what seaweed tastes like. Yes, it’s quite salty, but then so is every meal you buy from a restaurant. In fact, if you took the salt out of most food, it would taste wrong. Seaweed gin is simply a savoury gin, distilled with soft garden herbs, fresh mints and citrus.”
In the glass, Dà Mhìle’s Organic Seaweed Gin is clearly both multi-faceted and intriguing, with rose remaining on the nose, but this time accompanied by coriander, dry juniper and a good measure of wet and salty aromas. When tasted neat, this is once again the case but other than eucalyptus, spearmint and a lashing of seaweed – it’s worth noting just how smooth the gin is too. It certainly doesn’t feel like a gin that is above 38%, let alone 42%. Perhaps the easy sipping nature of the gin is because the alcohol is subdued due to the infusion, or it could be because the overall gin is botanically intense. Either way, it’s easy to see how this would work with cheese, oysters or alongside a half dozen creamy scallops.
Whether Dà Mhìle’s Organic Seaweed Gin is a big seller across the UK or used in anything other than food matching, is left to be seen as the taste of the gin is quite hard to see working in a multiplicity of cocktails. It’s designed to pair well with food but as a Negroni or Tom Collins it’s harder to work with and would only suit those with quite adventurous palates. We tend to serve it neat direct from the freezer, but also think it makes a genuinely superb Martini. Different, moreish, savoury – trust us, just try it!
Usually, the idea of really experimental, quirky botanicals taking a front seat is something that we don’t have much time for at Gin Foundry HQ. We love a good all rounder gin that is easy to use in all sorts of drinks. However, there is something so unique about both gins and when one really considers seaweed as a botanical, it sort of makes sense. It sounds a lot more disruptive than it is and in the case of Dà Mhìle, they have used it in just the right quantity.
While both may be divisive and you need to be quite particular in the uses for either gin, they are quite handy as a specialist spirit for those moments you are seeking something really unusual. They are distinct and individual and so, if you know you want their signature herbal and mentholic tones – it’s hard to beat. Additionally there are almost no gins that can be mixed as well with oysters than their Seaweed Gin (lemon juice combines well with the green leafy notes of the gin).
Don’t expect a sudden swathe of Dà Mhìle Gin all over the UK and further afield. They are on a slow and steady journey with long term goals a priority. They are are a very small team too! Like many Whisk(e)y makers they know that good things don’t happen overnight and that real success happens over time. That said, don’t expect either the distillery or the gin to disappear either.
In the three years since our first review, they have proved to be one of the more creative and authentic craft distilleries in the UK. Few take a similar grain to glass approach and grow their own, let alone use solely organic materials. Their gin is still incredably memorable and stands out even though there has been hundreds of other gins that have launched since they began. For better or for worse this distinct profile will bring them notoriety and even though it took us a while to fully appreciate it – we’ve become clear fans over the years.
Try it for yourself if you get the chance!
For more information about Dà Mhìle Gin visit their website: www.damhile.co.uk
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