The small and beautiful country of Wales is renowned for many things – from gold to rugby. However, a tiny distillery has revived the tradition of whisky making to take on its mighty Scottish and Irish neighbours
When the Penderyn distillery launched in 2004, the Prince of Wales himself, HRH Prince Charles, was on hand to show his patriotic support. It’s also fair to say that the majority of the distillery’s early adopters were fellow Welsh men and women attracted by the novelty of once again being able to buy a home-grown whisky after a hiatus of more than 100 years.
However, the whisky was simply too good to keep secret, and collectors and connoisseurs from around the world were soon adding Penderyn to their wish lists. A vodka, gin and cream liqueur were added in 2007, but it is the expanding range of Welsh whiskies that attract most attention and awards.
Located at the foot of the Brecon Beacons National Park, conditions are perfect in the small village of Penderyn for creating this prime premium product.
“In a world of globalised, multi-national and multi-brand companies it is important to understand that Penderyn is a small distillery,” they say. “In fact we are very, very small. Some distilleries, even premium brands, produce more in a day than we produce in a year.”
The concept for the distillery came at the turn of the millennium when a group of Welsh friends were determined to break with convention and realise their whisky dream.
The whisky still at Penderyn is a single copper pot that produces a flavourful spirit of strength and purity. This still was produced exclusively for Penderyn by Dr David Faraday – descendent of the Victorian scientist Michael Faraday.
The Penderyn house style comes from the use of two types of cask. After initial maturation in bourbon barrels, the wysgi is further matured in special Madeira barriques. Thanks to the quality of the wood, the spirit rapidly develops a sophistication normally confined to older whiskies. Reducing the strength gradually with Brecon spring water, Penderyn wysgi is bottled without chill-filtration.
At 92% alcohol by volume, the new spirit has the highest strength of any malt ‘wysgi’ and with just one barrel produced every day, it is also exceptionally rare. The majority of the spirit goes into cask for cellar ageing.
Master distiller, Dr Jim Swan, occasionally selects one or two of the very best Penderyn single cask whiskies to celebrate significant achievements in Wales. There is also an Icons series, which in the past has celebrated the life of Dylan Thomas and That Try – marking a 1973 moment of rugby folklore.
With Penderyn Legend and Penderyn Myth both recently winning Gold Awards at the Global World Whisky Masters 2015 in the ‘European Single Malt Premium’ category, it looks like Welsh wysgi is here to stay.