*Thanks to Sam Filmus and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
The history of distilling in Wales is not nearly as long and well-documented as are the histories of distilling in Scotland and Ireland. There have been a few poor attempts to tie early whisky-making and Wales together more impressively, but for the most part, it seems that distillation arrived in Wales about the same time it arrived in Scotland and Ireland, around the 15th Century. It was likely first a monastic, then a farmhouse endeavor, but a strong temperance movement in Wales kept distilling from becoming more ingrained in a cultural or industrial way. Prior to the founding of Penderyn’s Welsh Whisky Company, the last distillery of any import was the Welsh Whisky Distillery Company in Frongoch which was founded in 1887. This one doesn’t seem to have ever amounted to much, it barely limped into the early 1900s and by 1910 had shut down.
Like I said, not the richest of histories. I guess Wales can lay claim to one famous whisky export, but even this one gets exaggerated. Evan Williams, one of the more renowned early bourbon distillers, immigrated from Wales to the US in the late 1700s. It’s entirely possible that Williams learned how to distill in Wales and brought his expertise with him to the states, but that’s about as much as anyone can say about that. It’s been pretty well established that Williams was far from the first to distill in Kentucky, so the occasional attempt to give the Welsh credit for inventing bourbon not only seems a little desperate, it’s just an outright lie. Today, along with Penderyn, there are two other new distilleries in Wales. Dà Mhile Distillery in Llandysul has been producing an organic whisky and a line of organic gins for several years. Aber Falls Distillery in North Wales began distilling in 2017 and is looking to add whisky to its lineup when it’s ready in 2020.
Back at Penderyn…The Penderyn Madeira Single Malt Welsh Whisky is part of the distillery’s “Gold” range, and is matured in ex-Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels, and finished in ex-Madeira casks. This one does not carry an age statement but is approximately 6 years old with the finishing time ranging from 6-12 months to achieve the desired flavor profile. As with all Penderyn’s, the Madeira is non-chill filtered with no added color.
The Nose: Light, fresh and crisp. Upfront there’s floral honey, juicy apple, Meyer Lemon, and dried red fruits. Notes of candied almonds, underripe pineapple, and cereal milk follow. The oak is fresh cut and freshly stained, with spice notes of candied ginger, cinnamon, and citrus zest.
The Palate: The palate brings even more complex notes. There’s continued honey and more red fruits – currants and dried cherries – and more tart citrus. After that, there’s dark chocolate, toasted grain, and nutty toffee. The oak is nicely integrated and tannic with dried vanilla bean, cinnamon, ginger, clove, and white pepper.
The Finish: The honey and fruit fade first leaving peppery, chocolatey, oak and spice notes to linger longest.
Thoughts: The nose was pleasant, but the palate seemed to be where this one really comes alive. Throughout, I enjoyed the complex fruit notes. They lead the way, but always stay balanced and well-integrated. The almost caramelized wine influence from the Madeira cask is subtle but present, lending a subtle shading to the lighter distillery character. Once again, Penderyn does a very nice job of balancing its bright, crisp house style with what the finishing casks impart.
- “Aber Falls Whisky Distillery.” Aber Falls Whisky Distillery, https://www.aberfallsdistillery.com/en/.
- Cowdery, Charles K. Bourbon, Strange: Surprising Stories of American Whiskey. Chicago, IL: Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 2014.
- “Dà Mhìle Distillery.” Dà Mhìle Distillery, https://www.damhile.co.uk/.
- Veach, Michael R. Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: an American Heritage. University Press of Kentucky, 2013.
- Havelock, Laurie. “How Wales Rediscovered Its Whisky Heritage after Introducing Bourbon to Kentucky.” Inews, Inews, 4 Nov. 2019, https://inews.co.uk/news/business/welsh-whisky-company-penderyn-stephen-davies-interview-scotch-method-825553.
- “Penderyn Distillery.” ImpEx Beverages Inc., https://impexbev.com/penderyn/.
- “Penderyn Gold Whisky – Madeira, Peated & Portwood.” Penderyn, http://penderyn.wales/gold/.
- “Welsh Whisky.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_whisky.