The Dyfi Valley is one of those aggressively beautiful green spaces; the sort that knocks the air right out of your lungs as it charges your heart and body with fresh air and clean, green scenes. Hills bob and weave infinitely into the distance, while wildlife you’d never expect to see outside of Game of Thrones roam free. It’s no wonder, then, that when Pete Cameron moved there 35 years ago to study environmental biology, he sort of forgot to leave…
Nowadays, Pete is a hill farmer, forager & beekeeper, as well as the co-founder of Dyfi Distillery. His brother and business partner, Danny Cameron, is the booze connection. He has spent the last three decades submerged in the drinks industry, even going so far as to earn himself – for his services to Portugal’s wine industry – the title of a Commander of the Order of Prince Henry, awarded by the President, no less.
The brothers wanted to work together, and were keen to start a business that considered sustainability from more than one angle; sustainable for the environment, but also for them and their lives. The goal was to create something that would bring the family together. Given Danny’s history with alcohol and Pete’s incredible knowledge of Dyfi flora, a gin distillery was the immediate choice.
“We dreamed of making a gin that really tastes of where it comes from and reflects its sense of place,” Danny told us. “Of course, there are a handful of other gins which do this, but this very approach makes each one unique. “
Dyfi Distillery has three gins to its name: Dyfi Original Gin, Pollination Gin and Hibernation Gin. With Original, the team have acted in a restrained manor, limiting the recipe to eight botanicals, but with Pollination they’ve relinquished control entirely – packing their recipe with 29 botanicals.
Danny told us about the approach Dyfi took when creating its recipes: “We originally identified 60 native wild botanicals in Dyfi, which could be potentially relevant to a gin recipe. But we knew that any mix of these alone, even if very gorgeous as a blend, needed other components.”
“There is juniper in the valley, but only as a result of a regeneration project we have started. So we needed world class juniper, even if one day in the distant future we’d love to use only our own. We can’t forage angelica root here, as it would compromise the forager’s code. And lemon’s, frankly, aren’t native to Wales!”
Danny and Pete micro-distilled the imported botanicals in order to create their “canvas,” a classic botanical base upon which they build their gins. The base consists of juniper, angelica, cassia, orris and lemon peel, though this is embellished with almond and liquorice root for Pollination Gin.
The local ingredients used in Dyfi Original Gin are bog myrtle leaf, pine tips and gorse flower. The botanicals in Pollination include rowan berries, rose hips, sloe, hawthorn (flower and berries), elderflower, meadowsweet, bog myrtle, heather, bramble leaves, birch leaves, sweet cicely and lemon balm. For Hibernation Gin – the Dyfi base gin is influenced by the later season, so crab apples, blackberries, bilberries and lingon berries join the bill.
Hibernation Gin is not yet ready to come out of its winter hiding place – though Dyfi Distillery is predicting that it should be ready come Spring 2017. Danny’s wine expertise has clearly influenced the ageing process, because the spirit has spent the winter resting in a white Port cask bought in from the Nieport family. The crossover between gin and wine has long been of interest to us; the vintner-like ability to capture landscape and seasons has played a huge role in shaping the craft gin industry, and the results are usually quite stunning.
Pete takes charge of the distilling process. “It’s a healthy diversion for a head bubbling over with science,” his brother explains. To get the process started, he suspends the botanicals in a bought-in British wheat spirit overnight. The gin is made in two stills, with an accelerated heating process the following morning ensuring that the gin is vaporising within 22 minutes. Distilling takes a full day, with 200 bottles worth of liquid being produced across the two stills.
Pollination Gin to taste…
This is utterly delicious on the nose, conjuring intense images of grassy fields and summer meadows. Pollination Gin smells sweet, green, fresh and rich, with chamomile-like hints of gorse painting a vibrant picture. There isn’t a great deal of sappy juniper coming through; rather this feels like a modern interpretation of the spirit, sitting on the more grassy end of juniper’s spectrum. It’s a botanically-rich, naturally-flavoured spirit on the nose and arguably, one of the more distinct aromas we’ve had the pleasure of nosing in years.
The gin is both herbal and spiced on the tongue, as well as surprisingly savoury given its sweet smell. A candy coating comes through, but the gins (relatively) high ABV of 45% lends a lot of power to the more spiced botanicals, particularly cassia which is bright and loud. There is an overall leafy taste to Pollination Gin, but the caustic nature of lemon cuts it back along with a faint whisper of cooling mint.
With tonic, savoury botanicals capture the gin, resulting in a bitter and incredibly vegetal G&T. It’s like the leafiest of salads plucked fresh from the ground. Hints of rocket and bramble leaves coat the tongue, reminding us of a hothouse on a summer’s day. The juniper remains on the green, clean and grassy end of its capacity, while the overall impression is of a vibrant, blossoming and impactful flavour. We’d go with either berries or citrus to garnish; the overall savoury nature of the gin means that you could pull the sweetness up with a wedge of lemon or a handful of juicy summer berries.
There is something sweetly simple about the packaging for Pollination Gin; a tall, slender glass bottle is wrapped in a white paper label, cut at the top to fit around the botanical illustrations. The botanicals are drawn in a light, grassy green colour, while a scribble-drawn bee sits in black above the gin’s name. It’s fresh and unique, evoking images of optimistic spring picnics (you know… the ones where you sit shivering in the rain).
At the base of each label is the year it was bottled, beneath the words ‘tymor distyllu.’ In Welsh, this means ‘distilling season,’ rather than distilling year, as some of the foraged botanicals are preserved from the previous year. Selling bottles of different vintages seems a possibility for the Dyfi Distillery though, what with the temperamental nature of… nature. Danny agrees, although cautiously: “Perhaps over time climatic variables will give some ebb and flow to each gin, but we’ll need another year or two to be able to see if that happens.”
Danny’s decades in the booze trade means that he understands not only the importance of putting provenance in a product, but of connecting with drinkers on a face-to-face, tangible level. As a result, Dyfi Distillery is open to curious visitors throughout the year, and also shares quite candidly on its social media channels.
We’re certainly intrigued by Dyfi Distillery as a whole. We’re absolutely keen to try the port pipe aged gin and curious to know if Dyfi Original has more of a juniper lead. As ever, we’ll update you as and when we have the bottles to hand.
Pollination Gin is a wonderfully evocative spirit that transports the flora of Wales right into your glass, retaining a huge strength of character even when diluted with tonic water. They’ve achieved a rather special combination of being true to where they are based as well as adding something new to the category with their fresh take on the spirit. It’s whimsical and enchanting, deliberately progressive in its flavour profile and has got us day dreaming of what life must be like in the Dyfi valley. It’s a sleeping dragon waiting to be discovered by gin fans and mark our words, we’ve got a feeling that once they have, many more will be hearing about it…
For more information about Dyfi Distillery, visit the website: dyfidistillery.com
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