Welsh Single-Malt Penderyn Making Strides Without Long Aging
But the lesson here is that whisky doesn't have to be old to be good, or even great. Penderyn has not only been racking up the accolades, but it has added expressions that have been largely applauded and recognized as some of the best small-batch whisky in the British Isles, and the world.
The distillery is located in the village of Penderyn, in the southern reaches of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The water used for the whisky is pumped from a spring under the distillery. The barley-wash mash that gets distilled comes from Brains Brewery in nearby Cardiff. And as the only Welsh singe-malt, Penderyn has what any good whisky needs--a good story.
Gallery: Penderyn Welsh Whisky
Penderyn's flagship expression at launch was three to four years of aging in barrels that once stored American bourbon and six months of finishing in Madeira casks. Today, the average age whisky in the bottle is between six and seven years. Penderyn's taste, which has met with much praise from arbiters such as Jim Murray and Malt Advocate, is cleaner and slightly more mineral than its competitors to the north and west. The undertones, no doubt helped by the Madeira cask finishing, are closer to toffee, dried fruit, and light wood, with a hint of spice. Its lightness, I think, makes it ideal for drinking straight up.
Malt Advocate rated Penderyn Microdistillery Whisky of the Year in 2008. Whisky Magazine named it best in class for No-age statement expressions in 2008. In Jim Murray's 2010 Whisky Bible, the author rated Penderyn Port Edition his "European Single-Cask Whisky of the Year," scoring it 96.5. Pity there were only 206 bottles to come from that cask, but such a high rating indicates that master blender at Penderyn, the acclaimed Jim Swan, is on to something special, and that Penderyn's maturity will pay off big for the owners, as well as for whisky enthusiasts.
Penderyn's flagship is about $65-$70 at U.S. retailers. The other whiskies in the line include Madeira Single Malt ($70.00); Penderyn Peated ($50-$55 for standard and $135.00 for special limited edition) and Penderyn Sherrywood ($40-$55). Prices do vary.
The Sherrywood is aged in ex Bourbon barrels and then finished in Oloroso Sherry casks. It's complex, with Penderyn's signature subtlety of lemon and mint lingering around the corners, but with the fruit and spongecake one looks for at the center of the flavor profile.
Penderyn Peated is aged in ex Bourbon barrels, and finished off in second fill Scotch Whiskey barrels. Of all the expressions I have tried, this is the one that seems perhaps a reach too far. It isn't objectionable by any means. It just doesn't stack up against better peat expressions from Islay or even a Highland peat like Ardmore. The peat feels like its overlaid, rather than part of the spirit from the get-go.
Penderyn Madeira Single-Malt is more in line with what I'm expecting from this distillery since I first tasted its expressions in 2006. Aged in ex Bourbon barrels and finished in Madeira casks, there are bigger notes of vanilla and fruit than in Penderyn's flagship. A bit of apple and peach, and even blood oranges. Medium finish. Lovely.
As is the case with many young distilleries building up its stock of aged whiskies, there can be wider than normal variations batch to batch. But, hey, that is part of the adventure of discovery. Whisky drinkers are discovering Penderyn all the time, and it is a label definitely worth following.
Distribution for Penderyn is expanding all the time, but in the U.S. is best found at the better spirits retailers that specialize in carrying single-malts and world whiskies.
Like many distilleries these days, Penderyn is not limiting itself to whisky, which, of course, ties up considerable assets during the aging process. Though not available in the U.S. yet, the distillery also makes and distributes Brecon Gin ($28), Brecon Five Vodka ($28) and Merlyn Welsh Cream Liqueur ($28). All three are very respectable, and worth drinking, and I'd even stack up the Brecon Gin against much more established labels like Hendrick's and Burnett's.