In Canada, most whisky lovers have barely heard of Penderyn, let alone tasted it. Why have you chosen to come here and pour it?
Penderyn is the first Welsh distillery since Victorian times. It was a very brave thing to do. When they built the distillery, the thirst for innovation and new products wasn’t there. Penderyn is still quite new for a lot of people, even though it’s been going since the start of the 21st century.
When I’m giving whisky tastings around the world, I might sometimes put it in there, because I do them blind, so people don’t have a preconceived idea of whether they like something or not. Suddenly people’s eyes and taste buds and minds are open: they have to judge the whisky on how good it is.
It shocks people. They say, “What the bloody hell is this? It’s Welsh?” If you think about it, a lot of people just drink single malts, or just bourbon, or only Canadian whisky. If they drink a Welsh whisky, it opens up the possibilities for them.
So what’s the deal with Welsh whisky? How is Penderyn produced?
The actual still that they erected and built the distillery around, I first saw this still in a really disused building, a barn, on a very hot day in Wales, maybe 12 years before the distillery was even built. It was invented by scientists over at Surrey University down in Guildford. It was different because it distilled, in one movement, up to a very high strength—it was like a mix between column and pot. You get a very clean, light spirit that way. If you make your spirit cleaner like Penderyn did, it means your spirit is open to faster maturation. It will take what the cask is giving it far, far quicker.
Does Penderyn taste different than other single malts?
What they did is put it into bourbon casks that were fresh from Kentucky—not virgin, but first- fill—and then they went to finishing in Madeira casks, which hadn’t been used up to that point much in the whisky industry. You had the mix between the influences of American oak and European oak, and it was a very different whisky from that point of view. When it debuted it was young, at least half the age of what you’d expect from a Scotch, but it had this distinct flavor profile. That was their original single malt. There are more Penderyns—Peated, Portwood, Sherrywood—and some are completely breathtaking, extraordinary.
At tastings, I find people cotton onto it very quickly. I love people’s puzzled faces as they are trying to work out what the hell is going on with their palate!