Before the millennium, distilling in Wales was a lost art, with over a century passed since the last stills were in use. The new world of whisky is about being inspired by history and then doing things differently, which is exactly what Penderyn did; ensuring they made their own unique style of whisky that was as pure and precious as Welsh gold…
What would you do if you found a whisky still, had a building supplied with fresh water from the Brecon Beacons and a group of mates willing to give you their time and invest their life savings..? The story behind Penderyn provides the perfect example; with a conversation in the pub between friends back at the turn of the millennium, turning in to a passion project. It was a struggle in the early days while they waited for the first whisky to mature, but finally on St. David’s Day in 2004 the Penderyn Madiera Finish Whisky was released and their ambitions were realized and their goal was achieved.
Dr. Jim Swan
Regarded as the “Einstein of Whisky,” his research in to whisky and the distillation process has pioneered new methods of production. His name is mentioned in so many of the new world whisky distilleries we have already discovered, consulting for many of them during the start-up phase and influencing their distillery set-up and maturation techniques, including the STR finish we know and love. He was only ever the official Master Distiller at Penderyn and Kavalan, which shows how involved he was in the Penderyn project and the legacy he has left that the team here continues to build upon.
The team at Penderyn didn’t just want to replicate those whiskies of the more established countries, instead their ambition was to create a uniquely Welsh whisky that could compete and excel in the world of whisky. The first hurdle to making a Welsh whisky was the realisation that the wet climate is more suited to cattle farming than growing high quality barley. So apart from the malted Barley, which is sourced from the East coast of England, they use fresh water from the surrounding Brecon Beacons in the mashing process to create a clear wort that offers a cleaner, less malty spirit. A fermentation time of 70 hours, also helps to refine the spirit, making it lighter and fruitier. The Faraday Still, which is very unique within the world of whisky, uses a single hybrid-style distillation, allowing for lots of copper contact and produces a wonderful new make spirit at an unbelievable strength of 92% ABV! This new make spirit is then matured for 4-6 years in ex-bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace, before the whisky is finished in a range of different casks; including Madeira casks for their core offering, as well as Sherrywood, portwood, rich oak and peated casks.
The Faraday Still
Dr. David Faraday, a descendent of the ground-breaking Victorian scientist, Michael Faraday, designed this truly unique still that is unlike any other; a twin-column and pot still hybrid that uses a single distillation on a continuous style setup. It works off small batches and encourages lots of re-distillation due to perforated copper plates that run through each column still. This allows for lots of copper contact to help produce a very light, delicate and fruity new make spirit. However, this flavourful spirit is very pure and comes out at an extraordinary strength of around 92% ABV, which is unheard of in the industry.
The Expansion of Welsh Whisky
With a focus on the continued expansion of the Penderyn project and to further support the development of the Welsh Whisky category, in 2008 they built a visitors centre and shop to create more of an experience for those wishing to visit and learn. In 2013 and 2014, they expanded the distillery with the addition of two more sets of stills (both a replica Faraday and Pot Sills), opened a new distillery in Llandudno in the very north of Wales and the latest distillery project in Swansea is set to open later this year.
The female Distilling team at Penderyn is another great example of the diversity within the new world of whisky. Trainees under the expert guidance of Dr. Jim Swan, Laura Davies and Aista Philips, along with Bethan Morgans, all work tirelessly to ensure their whiskies achieve an uncompromising standard and the best barrels are used and blended to create the wonderful whiskies within each range.
With a growing reputation, Penderyn whisky is now exported to over 45 countries around the world and has won over 70 Gold, Double Gold and Masters Awards at International events, including the IWSC and the San Francisco WSC.
The Dragon – This range of whiskies is about inspiring action and includes Legend, which is a Madeira-finish whisky bottled at 41% ABV, Myth that is matured in a range of ex-bourbon and rejuvenated oak casks, and Celt that is finished in ex-peated quarter casks.
Gold Range – Reflects the qualities of Welsh gold; being rare, pure and precious. This range includes the ‘house style’ ex-Madeira wine cask finish, peated that offers a medium peaty character, Sherrywood that uses dry Oloroso sherry casks, Rich Oak that uses ex-bourbon and rejuvenated oak casks, and Portwood that is full of flavor.
Icons of Wales Series – These are a special bottling that celebrates a significant person, milestone or event from Welsh history, with a plan to release 50 in total. Previous releases have all sold out and demonstrate the quality and demand for these whiskies.
Limited Editions – The distilling team occasionally selects the very best Penderyn Single Cask whiskies and releases it in this limited series that comes in a beautifully presented handmade wooden box.
Part of the Gold Range, Penderyn Sherrywood takes their Faraday Still created new make spirit and fully matures it, separately, in ex-Bourbon and ex-Oloroso Sherry casks, before bringing a combination of the two together to make the final product. Far from your typical sherry-bomb, this is a more restrained style that is achieved by Aista (the Master Blender) using a mixture of 70% Bourbon and 30% Sherry casks to create this beautifully balanced whisky. A consistent, multi-Award winning whisky since 2017, it provides notes of chocolate, oak, dark fruit, sweetness and nuts.
Hiraeth (pronounced He-Rith) is from their Icons of Wales series, which celebrates Welsh culture and heritage, and although the word is difficult to translate, Hiraeth is about a deep longing for something, especially ones home. It is a more experimental whisky, using mainly whisky from pot stills that gives it a lighter colour but a heavier, more full-bodied style. A very small cut is used for this whisky, but it is also combined with a little of the ‘house style’ Faraday Still whisky that is matured in STR casks. Light and fruity, but offering up more fragrance and mouth-feel than the usual Penderyn style, with notes of melon, vanilla and spices.