7 June 2012

03/06/2012 Penderyn Distillery

While visiting a family member in Wales, it seemed logical to stop by the one Welsh distillery. Or, to be honest, looking for an excuse to visit the one Welsh distillery, it was convenient to be able to visit a family member. Ha!

The suspects: FN, adc, JS and myself.

The distillery is quite a drive away and one needs a car to reach it. It is dead easy to find, though.
They are open every day, including Sundays and bank holidays, yet booking is essential: three tours a day; ours was packed. Never saw that many people during a distillery visit. Perhaps the bank holiday effect? While waiting for the tour to start, people who had not booked were told they could not tour that day, as everything was sold out.

The complex is tiny. To a point I wonder if they mature on site. No waiting room or cafeteria -- only the shop and a small reception space.

The tour starts in a room full of panels telling about the history and geology, as well as whisky-related memorabilia: jugs, bottles etc. One spends only ten minutes in there, which is insufficient to read through everything, unfortunately.

After that one, the group is lead to the main room: a corridor defined by a wall of casks on one side and several windows on the other. Each window opens to a part of the distillation process (wash charger, still, safe, bottling plant). What it means is one only sees the process from behind the glass. The good point is that pictures are allowed throughout.

The process itself is best left for a specialist to describe. It is interesting in that a) Penderyn do not mash themselves: they get their wash from a brewery in Cardiff; b) the spirit is distilled only once; c) the still is very particular in shape, is split in two parts (fragmented column) because taller buildings are forbidden in the area and contains pierced plates in the neck.
I think it looks more like a Lomond still than anything else. I ask about similarities and try to find out how well this one would abide by the SWA regulations, but am met with incomprehension. All the same, it is almost certain Penderyn would not be granted the Scotch Whisky label, were it produced in Scotland.

After the production line, the group is taken to a corner where they can smell the different notes in the spirit: cask (Bourbon from Buffalo Trace and Madeira), various aromatic herbs and spices. There is also a short introduction about gin and vodka, both produced by the same company, though neither on the same site.

The visit ends on a bottle from the Frongoch distillery that operated in Wales between 1889 and 1903. Most interesting to this collector, naturally. There is an awkward moment when the guide calls for offers and someone bids 200£. A private collector apparently offered 250k£ for this bottle, which is believed to be the sole in existence. Another *might* be concealed in Prince Charles's private cellar, though it is unconfirmed.

Then comes the tasting. The bar is a lot larger than the corridor used during the visit. Nicely organised it is too, with stools, tables and even chairs: one is comfortably seated to sip their two-drams-each in peace. There are four different bottlings to choose from, which are easily shared between the four of us.

Penderyn Madeira (46%, OB, b. ca 2012): this is really their regular expression, uniquely enough. Nose: a little citrusey, toffee. Mouth: some sting for a reduced whisky! Orange rinds. Finish: more similar to 128.3: clogged sink, then toffee and dark chocolate. 7/10

Penderyn Portwood (41%, OB, b. ca 2012): a recent addition that gets adc quite excited. Nose: off-putting at first. Vinegar? It makes room for butterscotch and hay. Mouth: refreshing like a fruit bowl. Finish: vanilla and a bit of mint. 8/10

Penderyn Sherrywood (46%, OB, b. ca 2012): nose: smoked meat with a hint of toothpaste. Mouth: creamy with that sherry touch. Finish: chocolate again, cocoa milk. Very good. 7/10

Penderyn Peated (46%, OB, b. ca 2012): interestingly, they do not use peated malt; they do not have peat and do not wash themselves, so it would make no sense. Instead, they mature the whisky in casks from Islay distilleries. To balance it out, they then blend that with some regular Penderyn matured in Buffalo Trace bourbon casks. Nose: peat smoke (no kidding!), rubber. Mouth: a little sting and cream. Finish: light smoke and smoked ham. Quite nice, in fact. 7/10

Since we ask questions, stay longer and generally show some interest and knowledge (ahem), the guide treats us to a few extra drams: we can taste the Madeira at room temperature, with a few pearls of water ('because I don't add water to my whisky,' he says) and in a warm glass. The differences are interesting, though they are not unexpected at all from our part. However, he has something else in stock for us:

Penderyn Sherrywood Limited Edition (50%, OB, C#546): nose: varnish, wood. Mouth: more dried wood. Finish: very long, on dark chocolate and mocha. Lovely indeed. 7/10

We are told Penderyn does not sell casks any longer. They did a few times in the beginning to get funding, but stopped doing so. Nothing goes to blenders, then. I ask more about it, since we copiously indulge in 128.3 during this trip, but again, I am met with incomprehension: the guide thinks I am talking about an official single cask. Since we do not carry the bottle with us to show him (nor a hip flask, at this point), I do not insist.

We are kindly pushed towards the exit around 12:30 to make room for the 13:00 group.

Nice enough visit. A little too crowded for me and, to be honest, a comment John MacLellan gave at Bunnahabhain comes to mind, 'We are a distillery that welcomes visitors, not a tourist office that happens to make whisky.' This one seems quite the opposite. But then it is new and needs both the money and the publicity, I suppose.

It seems fitting to describe the following, which we drink again later in the day:

128.3 5yo 2006 Chestnut Puree And New Hiking Boots (61.3%, SMWS Society Cask, ex-Bourbon Barrel, 229b): nose: some wood, vanilla and a little toffee. Mouth: powerful, at 61.3%. More wood and some citrus. Finish: still that clogged sink feel, then toffee and chocolate. When I take off my hiking boots that evening, I notice the exact same clogged sink impression. The label was right, then, although my boots are not new. Too much information? ;-P

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