It’s been quite awhile since we’ve had the pleasure of hearing from The Domestic King on these pretty pink pages, but I’m delighted to say he’s finally back!! So, without further ado, take it away Domestic King!
Birthday presents don’t come much better than this – a Masterclass at the Penderyn Distillery in South Wales! It was a wonderful surprise from the Domestic Prince and Princess who know my liking for a wee dram or two of whisky. My love affair with Penderyn Whisky began a few years ago – from the first sip of the straw-hued liquid I was hooked! So the Masterclass was a great way to find out what makes Welsh Whisky so special and distinctive.
It takes its name from its location, the tiny rural village of Penderyn sited just one mile inside the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park, about six miles north of Aberdare. It’s easily accessible from the major cities and towns of the South Wales valleys via the Heads of Valleys Road. History buffs will be familiar with the village through Welsh folk hero Dic Penderyn, the legendary working-class martyr involved in the Merthyr Rising of 1831, who lived in the village. He was wrongfully executed for a stabbing he did not commit, his name forever associated with the Red Flag of social justice.
Established in 1999 by the Welsh Whisky Company, the Distillery released its first single malt on St David’s Day 2004, the start of a great Welsh industry success story. The secrets of “the smoothest wysgi on Earth” are revealed in the Masterclass in the Visitor Centre, housed under the same roof as the Distillery. Without a doubt, a ‘must-do’ experience for anyone wishing to know and understand more about a truly unique series of whiskies.
Prepare for two and half absorbing hours as you embark on a fascinating journey of enjoyment and discovery. Our presenter was Euan, an amiable Scot of all people, a graduate biologist, and extremely knowledgeable with great communication skills. In the comfort of a smart, carefully prepared studio, we learned about the history of distillation in Wales, the characteristics of malt whisky compared with other types of whisky, and what distinguished malt from blended whiskies. This background information helped us to understand better the malt whisky production process, and specifically, the uniqueness of the Welsh whisky process. This part of the Masterclass unlocked the secrets of Penderyn’s superior quality! “Uniqueness” really does define Penderyn’s distillation process.
The malting, milling, mashing and fermentation process to produce the barley wash is undertaken for the Distillery by the famous Brains Brewery in Cardiff. This 8% ABV wash (Alcohol By Volume) is then distilled at Penderyn in a unique copper still that produces alcohol spirit called ‘newmake spirit’ measuring a huge 92% ABV. This is much higher than the Scottish distilleries where the average spirit is 65% ABV. The great advantage of the 92% spirit is it matures into saleable whisky at a much quicker rate when transferred to wooden casks. Its unique smoothness is also attributed to this process. At this maturation stage, very pure mountain water from the Brecon Beacons is added to the ‘newmake spirit’ pumped directly from a well beneath the Distillery. The whiskies acquire their unique flavours and colour from maturing in used Bourbon and Madeira barrels to produce Penderyn Madeira and Penderyn Sherrywood whiskies, and in used smoky Scottish Islay whisky casks to produce the Peated Penderyn.
Almost uniquely, Penderyn bottles its whisky on site, reducing its strength to 46% ABV by adding pure mountain water from its well beneath the Distillery. Now that must be unique! And as a proud Welshman, I am convinced it enhances the smoothness of this delicate straw-hued liquid gold!
The climax of the Masterclass was the tasting. Although an enthusiastic learner who enjoyed the whole of Euan’s presentation, it was the expectation of the tasting that excited my emotions! Euan quickly exploded the myth that it is a cardinal sin to add water to malt whisky. His advice was, it should be the tiniest amount, “a tear drop”! The best way to achieve this, he said, is to fill a whisky glass with water, empty it, and then add a measure of single malt. The effect is to release myriad aromas (a smell detection challenge!) as well as impacting on the flavour and drinking sensation. Great advice to someone who not a few times has ‘drowned’ the whisky with an equal measure of water, totally destroying the drinking experience! My Penderyn training will certainly ensure the tasting ‘protocol’ becomes a whisky-drinking ritual.
Euan concluded the Tasting Session by emphasising Penderyn is a small distillery producing premium quality whisky. The secret of achieving consistently excellent whisky, he informed us, lies in the Unique Penderyn Five! Go on, indulge yourself, or a loved one, and take a trip to Penderyn to solve the UPF!
It is no accident that the brand includes a gold flash melded onto each bottle above which are the letters ‘AC’, the abbreviation for ‘Aur Cymru’ – Welsh Gold, a gold liquid synonymous with the much sought after rare and precious Welsh gold.
In addition to the award winning Madeira whisky (a Gold Medal at the International Whisky Competition 2012) and the wonderful Sherrywood and Peated whiskies, the Distillery produces, from time to time, limited edition whiskies usually around 60% ABV cask strength. More recently, the Company has extended its spirit range to include a gin, a vodka and Merlyn Cream Liqueur. The Brecon Gin is on my buying list for the Domestic Prince. The Merlyn, which is delicious, will probably find its way into someone’s Christmas stocking!
The Masterclass was, in every respect, a wonderful experience! The Distillery and its staff provided a warm, friendly welcome, together with great hospitality, and sent us on our way with a generous gift of three miniature whiskies in a tasting set – Madeira, Sherrywood and Peated to savour at leisure. Like the whisky itself, the Masterclass has a wonderfully long and lingering finish!
Wow! Sounds like The Domestic King had a fabulous day and I’m thrilled he enjoyed it so much! If you’re not a Welshie and fancy participating in The Masterclass and are wondering where to stay, please drop me an email and I can recommend some wonderful places. You could combine it with a walk in the beautiful Brecon Beacons. And if this post has got you yearning to try a drop (or two!) of Penderyn whisky, then it can be purchased from their website, in many Waitrose stores, my spiritual home (no pun intended!) Harrods, or check their website out for worldwide distributors.
Are any of you whisky lovers? And have you tried Penderyn’s offerings?
With much love
The Domestic Princess