Whisky has been made in Wales since the middle-ages – why can’t our government seize this opportunity?

Scottish whisky. Picture by Paul Hudson (CC BY 2.0).

Neil McEvoy, Leader of the Welsh National Party

Part of the role of the Welsh National Party is to be a breathe fresh life into Welsh politics with ideas, as well as actions. We are mooting one such idea right now.

Wales must find new ways to generate income and wealth. A central aim of the Welsh National Party is to develop the Welsh economy, so that Wales can pull its own weight financially.

A wealthy Wales will be a confident Wales. A confident Wales will be a sovereign Wales.

A gift horse that we’re all looking in the mouth is our Celtic heritage. I firmly believe we should use our Celtic heritage to re-create a high value, sustainable whisky industry in Wales.

Unbeknown to most, Wales is the historic mother of alcohol production in the British Isles, with the first written evidence referring to such in the Mabinogion.

“The Great Welsh Warrior” Reaullt Hir is said to have distilled whisky from braggot brewed by the monks of Ynys Enlli in the ancient Kingdom of Gwynedd in AD 356. It is said that these monks then developed the art of distilling further.

Whisky was produced from the middle-ages on in Wales, just like in the other Celtic nations of Ireland and Scotland.

So we were pioneers in producing whisky, although – as in almost everything else – we’ve been extremely poor in marketing ourselves as such!

The 1823 Excise Act had negative consequences for Welsh whisky production, which was compounded by the great Welsh religious chapel revival, with its defining temperance movement. By the late 19th Century, only one distillery remained at Frongoch in Gwynedd, which finally stopped production in the year 1900, with its last stock sold in 1910.

During the long period of decline, Wales’ loss was the USA’s gain. The premium Bourbon brand of Jack Daniels was founded by Jack Daniels, whose grandparents were Welsh émigrés. Moreover, Evan Williams founded Kentucky’s famous second best-selling Bourbon, carrying his own name.

Evan Williams’ family owned a commercial whiskey distillery in Dale, Pembrokeshire and his US distillery was Kentucky’s first commercial distillery opened in 1783. In addition, the founder of Four Roses Bourbon, Paul Jones Jnr could also boast of Welsh heritage.

 

Drive

In the 21st century, Penderyn has re-blazed the trail, with Aber Falls also now ready to sell its whisky next year. Moreover, the Da Mhile micro-distillery in Llandysul is launching its first single malt later this year.

All this is really positive, but in less than a third of the time, Ireland has gone from four distilleries to 31. The Japanese have also been very successful in creating premium brand whiskies, with Yamazaki and Hukushi both recently winning world single malt whisky of the year, with Taketsuru, Hibiki and Nikka all winning blended malt whisky of the year.

Any pro-active, forward-thinking government would enable the same growth to happen in Wales. Seed funding is required. It is time to act now.

There is no reason why Wales could not have 20 new distilleries over a five-year period. This would directly create 900 jobs, but would provide a huge economic boost, leading to a positive knock on effect of thousands of jobs overall. Over a 15-year period, we would be looking at a £200m boost in GVA from jobs alone.

After six years, every distillery should be in profit, by year 15 the profits will have grown exponentially with the sector generating £120 million in profit alone. The overall economic impact would be considerable and a good-sized piece in the jigsaw to Wales being financially healthy.

A sovereign Welsh Parliament could do so much to drive Wales forward. Let’s not forget though that our present Parliament can do a lot of good. It is just starting to use our powers to the full extent.

It is time to start making the Senedd Cymru, our Welsh Parliament work for everyone in Wales.

Iechyd da.

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