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Having a Rum Old Time: Jon Gower finds Holyhead in good spirits

29 Jan 2022 4 minutes Read
Matt Williams, mixologist at the Boathouse Hotel

Jon Gower

The Singapore Sling. The Moscow Mule. The Long Island Iced Tea. The cocktail map of the world is full of drinks named after special places. Now a North Wales mixologist is hoping to add Holyhead to this list with a concoction very suitable for winter nights such as these, the Holyhead Hot Toddy.

Matt Williams, the bar manager of the town’s Boathouse Hotel got the idea after putting on a Rum ‘n’ Ribs evening, using ingredients from Anglesey’s Llanfair PG distillery:

“After running the Rum ‘n’ Ribs night I was inspired to create a warm cocktail in memory of my Great Great uncle William Williams, He was based in Station Road, Holyhead and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroic action during WWI and became the most highly decorated seaman of the war.”

The hotel itself isn’t conventionally run, as it’s owned by a local charity, Wild Elements Hospitality/Lletygarwch Elfennau Gwyllt, which took over the lease in October. Wild Elements is a not-for-profit social enterprise dedicated to getting people to enjoy life outdoors and connect them to nature.

Mr Tom Cockbill from Wild Elements says, “Branching out into Holyhead at The Boathouse Hotel is an exciting adventure. We are eager to support the community and encourage them to enjoy the natural environment around them.

“As a team we had the idea prior to the pandemic, over 2 years ago. It sent a buzz through the team and excitement could be felt in the meetings. With the potential to support so many people through nature and the added bonus of being able to host them in a warm and welcoming environment, how could we not explore it and bring it to fruition?”

Secret ingredient

Matt Williams thought that creating a signature drink would help attract customers and establish the hotel under the new ownership. It was useful that Anglesey has its own distillery, the Anglesey Rum Company, based at Gaerwen, which makes three principal rums in their “Lighthouses of Anglesey” series – a spiced rum named after the Llanddwyn light, a white rum in keeping with the white waters near Penmon and a dark rum named after the Skerries, the light you can see from the bar where Matthew shakes up his Holyhead Hot Toddy.

He’s not giving much away when it comes to all the ingredients: “I decided to use local ingredients from the Spiced Rum (a hat tip to the Navy) to the locally foraged secret ingredient. I also included Mel Pen y Bonc which is a honey produced by our Head Gardener at Wild Elements.”

Spirits have long been associated with Holyhead although sometimes drink fuelled considerable drunkenness, especially during events such as feast days. The 18th century Holyhead customs officer William Morris, one of the remarkable Morris brothers of Anglesey, noted the death of an aquaintance saying ‘Don’t talk about drinking, that old man swallowed more strong drink than there is water on Archaeddon Lake on Bodafon Mountain.’

There was a history of local smuggling, too, when soap, salt, candles, tea, brandy and wine arrived in ‘discrete consignments’ on the mail packet boats, which had to limit the number of bottles of wine they could carry for “passengers’ requirements” to a dozen a trip from 1752 onwards.

They’ll be avoiding any such riotous or secretive behaviour when they launch the Holyhead Hot Toddy at the Boathouse on Newry beach on the evening of 1st April 2022, when there’ll be a tasting of toddies accompanied by some readings from books written about Holyhead, from Jonathan Swift to the poet R.S. Thomas who grew up in the town.

For more information please contact The Boathouse Hotel on 01407 762 094


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago

I’ve got just the book for you Matt, a first edition of The Savoy Cocktail Book…

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