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Wales has a rich history of whisky making, but the last distillery ceased production in 1894 and the industry then fell silent for more than a century.
When a group of friends met in the late 1990’s for a drink and a catch-up, the conversation meandered towards this lost industry and a few began to wonder what it would be like to bring distilling back to the Welsh countryside. From this conversation a plan began to grow and in 2000, the Welsh Whisky Company was launched and a location secured at the village of Penderyn on the southern tip of the Brecon Beacons.
Employing the services of the late Dr. Jim Swan to aid with the project’s creation proved a masterstroke. The great mans talent for setting up a distillery in such a way that it would hit the ground running was legendary and he oversaw everything in those early days, acting as master blender and training the staff onsite in the dark arts of distilling. Swan sadly passed away in 2017 but his legacy lives on through not only Penderyn, but Kavalan, the Cotswolds Disitllery, the London Distilling Company, Victorian Caledonian in Canada and Annandale, Kilchoman, The Clydeside and Lindores Abbey in Scotland, all of whom owe him a great debt.
Penderyn began retailing in 2004, the first commercially available Welsh whisky in over 100 years. Though matured predominantly in American Oak Bourbon Casks, the Penderyn distillers have also been experimenting with a variety of finishes, all of which are matured in the extensive cellars onsite. The business has been a great success, exporting to the likes of China, Taiwan, Russia, Australia and France, while the distillery itself welcomes around 35,000 visitors each year.
The Penderyn Madeira Finish is bottled at 46% and should cost around £40, based on UK pricing.
Smell: Peculiar. Herbal, almost gin-like nose with vanilla, toffee and strawberry, raspberry and banana.
Taste: Banoffee, digestive biscuits and Snickers bars. Gingery spice. Perhaps a touch of youth about it but decent weight on the palate.
Thoughts: The first time I tried this whisky I thought it was the worst dram I’d ever had. That’s not an exaggeration. I thought it was dreadful. It was a miniature I had picked up from the airport and drank in a hotel in Paris and I thought that I would probably never touch the stuff again.
Never one to admit defeat, however, I’ve tried the whisky since then and found it to be a more enjoyable experience. I still detect a slight youth about it but it’s not as raw and hot as before. I think there’s a lot to be said for patience when confronted with an unusual flavour profile.
The higher strength adds to the intensity of the dram and its got decent enough weight to it. I don’t think I’m 100% convinced that it’s to my taste but I certainly found it interesting and while I may not rush back to it, I wouldn’t be put off from trying other Penderyn whiskies.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.