Since 2004, Penderyn has become synonymous with innovation within the whisky industry, implementing traditional whisky-making techniques influenced by the expertise and contemporary perspective of an all-women distilling team.
Wales, UK – Wales has a rich history of alcohol production. This history includes distillation and whisky making, which started as far back as the Middle Ages. However, the production of alcohol and whisky in Wales saw a decline in the 19th Century as a result of the Temperance Movement and beliefs driven by religion that characterized alcohol consumption as a danger to society. In 2004, the commercial production of Welsh whisky was revived by a new distillery: Penderyn. Since then, the company has produced award-winning whiskies (and non-whisky products), entering the worldwide market of this highly regulated spirit with a selection of several expressions of their namesake single malt whisky. Penderyn has become synonymous with innovation within the industry, implementing traditional whisky-making techniques influenced by the expertise and contemporary perspective of an all-women distilling team.
We had the opportunity to sit with Giancarlo Bianchi, Technical Director of Penderyn, to learn more about the company’s history, their vision for the future of the brand in America, and his advice on how to best enjoy a Penderyn Whisky.
INTERVIEW WITH GIANCARLO BIANCHI, TECHNICAL DIRECTOR OF PENDERYN
• Can you share with us the history of Penderyn Distillery and its roots and connections to the region of South Wales where it is located?
Penderyn produce award-winning single malt whiskies and spirits at their distillery on the foothills of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, United Kingdom. Penderyn now has a presence in most UK supermarkets and export to over 40 countries, including recent expansion into China, the USA, Germany, Singapore, Russia, and Australia.
Distilling in Wales was a lost art, but in the late 1990s, in a pub in Hirwaun in the Welsh valleys, a group of friends chatted about establishing the first whisky distillery in Wales in over a century. They dreamt of creating a whisky as pure and precious as Welsh gold, represented today by Penderyn’s ‘gold seam.’
The village of Penderyn was chosen because of the site’s own supply of fresh, natural spring water. A unique copper single-pot still designed by Dr. David Faraday, a relative of the great 19th-century scientist Michael Faraday, was installed, which produces a spirit at an industry high of 92%. On St David’s Day 2004, Penderyn whisky was launched in the presence of His Royal Highness Prince Charles.
With investment, inspiration, hard work, attention to detail, the finest barley, expert female distillers, and the best American oak bourbon casks, Penderyn Whisky has quickly gained a worldwide reputation for its range of whiskies, winning many gold awards en route. Today Penderyn is now very much part of the world whisky conversation.
As a result of the distillery’s progress, two other distilleries are planned for Swansea in South Wales and Llandudno in North Wales.
We have ensured that whisky distilling in Wales is “a lost art no more.”
• How does Penderyn honor the ancient traditions of whisky-making while remaining innovative?
We use a unique Faraday Still, designed by Dr. David Faraday. It is a single-column copper still that produces a spirit at an industry high of 92%, meaning all the impurities and the heavier oils have largely disappeared. This means that Penderyn’s whiskies are light, fruity, and flavorsome. We now have 2 of these stills, as well as a pair of Scottish lantern-style stills. We are also very scientific in our barrel management, using a variety of casks to finish in, some of which are quite unusual. The process is traditional – barley, mash tun, fermentation, distilling, and casking, but we have an all-women distilling team trained under the renowned Master Distiller Dr. Jim Swan and who are constantly searching for innovation. We are using the Scottish lantern stills to create new whiskies for the future, balancing the spirit with that from our Faraday still.
• Being founded in 2000, Penderyn is still a very young company when compared to other distilleries in the market. What steps have you taken to ensure your award-winning whiskies stand above the rest?
In 2000, when Penderyn started distilling, only around eight or nine countries produced whisky, and now many countries do. So while we are young in terms of Scottish, American, and Irish distilleries, we were one of the pioneers in the World Whisky Industry. By hiring the services of the late great Dr. Jim Swan, who loved our spirit, we were respected almost immediately. Due to our stills and barrel management, the slightly different whisky we produce opened other doors. Penderyn is now very much part of the international whisky conversation.
• A younger generation of whisky-lovers is surging in North America. What are your plans to appeal to this market and become their whisky of choice?
We were in San Francisco a few years back at a Scottish Highland Games – the biggest in the world! We set up shop alongside a large number of Scottish distilleries and ended up with the biggest sales. One gentleman of a Scottish persuasion said it was a ‘sunshine whisky,’ meaning that it could be enjoyed on the beautiful sunny days they have in California. As stated before, our whiskies are light, which means they are easy to drink and also mix well with cocktails.
Compared to Scotland and Ireland, Wales is the secret Celtic nation, so we enjoy explaining our country to people. People are looking for new products, and whenever we see someone taste Penderyn for the first time, we get a short pause and then a smile. Penderyn is different and so a joy to discover.
• When discussing Penderyn Portwood, what inspired the aromas and flavors of this whisky?
We already launched a Penderyn whisky matured in ex-ruby port casks back in 2011 but bottled at 82 proof, instead of 92 proof. This bottling instantly became a firm favorite of many visitors to our distillery and proved to be such a success that within 18 months, we exhausted all our mature bulk stocks. When Aista, our Master Blender, set out to work on the current Penderyn Portwood, she knew it would be key to emulate the dark chocolate and honey sweetness of its previous incarnation.
• Penderyn Rich Oak offers such enticing aromas, highlighting a selection of fruits that include guavas (a favorite fruit of ours)! Additionally, it offers notes of vanilla. What influenced this selection of tropical fruits and flavors, resulting in such a rich and complex whisky?
The beautiful tropical fruits complexity of Penderyn Rich Oak is something Aista knows well how to obtain from our beloved Scraped Toasted Re-charred casks, which were originally devised by our legendary former Master Distiller and Blender, Dr. Jim Swan. Before Penderyn Rich Oak, STR casks were only sparingly employed to tweak and enrich the flavor profile of other expressions within the Penderyn range. On a few occasions, they were used to create very special, small-batch bottlings at 100 proof, fully based on these casks. Just like Penderyn Portwood, it became clear these amazing flavors had to be incorporated into our core range!
• How do you best enjoy a Penderyn Whisky?
Neat. Simple as that. Maybe a small drop of water brings out different flavors, but always try it neat, at room temperature. There is a Welsh word for a hug, ‘cwtsh,’ and we always say that you should give the glass a cwtch first, before tasting. Penderyn is a mixture of art, science, and a taste of Wales, which was the intellectual capital of Europe in medieval times, and has one of the oldest literary traditions in Europe. There’s always a story to tell with Penderyn! – GM
Penderyn Portwood is characterized by sumptuous aromas of rich dried fruits with dark chocolate and cranberries and a distinct scent of toasty oak that blends with a baked nutty dryness. It is rich and creamy on the palate, with traces of spiced notes, finishing with a smooth and sweet hint of honey.
Penderyn Rich Oak exudes elegant aromas of dark chocolate fudge with cinnamon and pepper spices, followed by green apples and lush tropical fruits – mango, banana, and guavas. To the palate, this is a rich and complex whisky that boasts a creamy texture and the perfect balance of oak, cinnamon, and nutty toffee with a flavorful finish of vanilla.
GUILD MAGAZINE - THE FOOD ISSUE