Spirit moves again in Wales

Within a month Dafydd Gittins hopes to begin distilling the first batch of Welsh whisky for nearly 90 years. Whisky was first produced in Wales in the fourth century but the temperance movement killed off the drink at the turn of this century, writes Danny Penman.

The secrets of the whisky lay hidden until 1974 when Mr Gittins found a case of the spirit Chwisgi in Ruthin Castle and began delving into its history.

After six years experimenting, he managed to recreate the whisky. The drink is produced in the same way as the Scotch and Irish varieties, but instead of peat filtering or extra distillation, it is filtered through indigenous herbs. Using home-made equipment, Mr Gittins, a former flight engineer with the airline Lufthansa, started producing the spirit from raw Scotch whisky. After filtering and maturing, it was then resold as Welsh whisky.

In about a month, the essential distillation step will also be performed in-house, making it the first true whisky to be distilled in Wales since 1906. Mr Gittins has invested £100,000 in the new equipment and Surrey University is providing the technical back-up as part of a doctorate. The new distillery, at Brecon, will produce 500,000 litres of the Swn Y Mor and Prince of Wales brands. Scotch and Irish whiskies flourished while the Welsh variety declined because of the harsher English tax regime. Two Welshmen, Jack Daniels and Evan Williams, became so disillusioned they left Wales for the US, where they founded two of America's most famous brands. The scale of the new Welsh industry is still tiny. The Scottish industry is worth about £4bn; Mr Gittins hopes turnover of the Welsh Whisky Company will reach £1m this year.

Photograph: Craig Easton