The notion of Welsh whisky may sound unusual at first, and even ten years ago you’d have been right in thinking so. However, in the last decade a single distillery, Penderyn, found in the Brecon Beacons National Park, has changed that.
Wales does have a history of whisky distillation, although it is not as well documented as Scotland’s. Allegedly, whisky was first distilled in Wales in the Middle Ages, but the first commercial distillation occurred in 1705 at a distillery in Pembrokeshire, led by Evan Williams. It was not commercially successful however, and Williams eventually emigrated from Wales to become a forefather of Kentucky whiskey.
In the 19th century, the rise of the temperance movement also put paid to the aspirations of the Welsh whisky industry, and the last notable distillery in the country at that time, the Welsh Whisky Distillery in Frongoch, was sold in 1900 and liquidated in 1910. As such, the current critical praise and appreciation for Penderyn’s whisky is notable – it is the first commercially available Welsh whisky for nearly 100 years.
Penderyn’s whiskies don’t carry age statements, but their standard bottling is aged for about eight years. The beautiful surroundings of the Brecon Beacons provide a similar habitat to the Scottish Highlands, and the whisky itself is noted for its full body, vanilla taste, and spicy fruit nose, which derives from the use of Portuguese Madeira casks as part of a one year finishing process.
Penderyn also has several other expressions, including a peated whisky flavoured using former peated Scotch casks, and has won several awards, including the 2014 Single Malt Best Cask Finish at the International Whisky Competition.
Penderyn’s owners distinguish themselves through their use of single distillation, as opposed to the typical double distillation of Scotch whisky, and triple distillation of Irish whiskey. This helps contribute to the whisky’s full-bodied flavour and high ABV (46%). The distillery is exclusive, bottling only a single cask a day, but has set a remarkable precedent for further distilleries to open up in Wales down the line.