Whisky Review Round Up: Penderyn Welsh Whiskies (Gold Range) - The Whiskey Wash

Whisky Review Round Up: Penderyn Welsh Whiskies (Gold Range)

Editor’s Note: These whiskies was provided to us as review samples by Penderyn. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

Wales, like its neighbors England, Scotland and Ireland, has a long and storied history of distillation. Evidence has been uncovered of still sites dating back to the 4th century and whisky production has been essentially ongoing since, though not without ups and downs. Welsh whisky production saw a lull in the 20th century, with most major operations shutting down by the 1920s.

Penderyn Distillery was at one point one of the only distilleries in the region, and it is now the figurehead and standard bearer for Welsh whisky. The Welsh Whisky Company, Penderyn’s company name, brought its first whisky to market in 2004. Since then it has enjoyed exceptional growth and garnered quite a bit of both regional and international acclaim.  

Stylistically, Welsh whisky as a category is a bit hard to define, not least due to the very limited sample size relative to other major whisky producing regions. Penderyn’s house style is most reflective of its choice of still and casking regimen. Penderyn utilizes a Faraday still for the majority of their distillations, rather than the more common ‘lantern’ pot stills, resulting in a much higher alcohol white whisky than most whisky distilleries.

Their casking regime perhaps has more in common with the titans of Irish whiskey than their Scottish neighbors, leaning heavily on bourbon barrels for the primary maturation of their whiskies. This is also a tribute to the rich history of distillation in the region. Evan Williams, the iconic bourbon producer, was of Welsh extractation and his family had a distillery in Pembrokeshire. Penderyn uses a large number of Evan Williams bourbon barrels for its primary maturation, keeping the cycle (and history) alive.

Secondary maturation is typically in Madeira casks, though, as we will see below, they are experimenting with a variety of casking regimes. Additionally, unlike many of their neighboring whisky producers, Penderyn has recently started producing a wider line up of spirits, including gin, vodka and a Welsh cream liqueur. It is worth noting that in addition to, or maybe in accordance with, their unique house style, the distillation team is entirely female, a rarity in such a male dominated realm. With such a wide range of products and being relatively unencumbered by regional stylistic conventions it will be interesting to see how Penderyn and its whisky style evolves and grows within the larger whisk(e)y producing world.  

Penderyn has an expansive catalogue of whiskies showcasing all manor of different styles and finishes. While availability of some of the smaller batch releases may be spotty outside of Wales, they do have a quite comprehensive online store for those where shipping alcohol is an option. Today we’ll be reviewing three expressions from their Gold catalogue, the Penderyn Peated Single Malt, Rich Oak Single Malt, and finally the Portwood Finish Single Malt.

I’ve ordered these in terms of price, from least to most, but also in terms of flavor intensity.  There is no age statement provided for any of these expressions, though most information seems to point to between between five and eight years being typical of Penderyn whiskies. Having never tasted Penderyn’s whisky I’m excited to try such a variety.

Penderyn Welsh Whiskies (Gold Range)

Penderyn Welsh Whiskies (Gold Range) (image via Penderyn)

Tasting Notes: Penderyn Peated Single Malt 

Vital Stats: 92 proof, malted barley, non-age statement, bourbon and Islay scotch barrels for aging, $60

Appearance: It’s the color of faint straw, slightly watery and quite leggy.

Nose: Loads of ripe tropical fruit like melon, mango and pineapple jump out, with some brackish saline and surprisingly restrained peat phenolics.  Octomore this is not. There’s a touch of ethanol heat to the nose but nothing that strays too far from home.   

Palate: The flavors are unsurprisingly dominated by fruit but in a more dessert minded way.  Strawberries, honeydew, biscuits and clotted cream mingle with a kind of acerbic smoke character. A little saline character would be nice to finesse out a bit more fruit through the slightly punishing smoke character. The body is a bit thin and there’s not much length to it.

All said and done, I was mostly left with a kind of bitter, metallic taste, which is not where I expected it to go. This did improve with a few drops of water, but it didn’t fully remedy it. I wouldn’t describe it as acrid but I didn’t find it particularly enjoyable.  

Final Thoughts: This is a very fruit forward whiskey that I’m not sure benefits from the peating nor the cask treatment. It’s almost reminiscent of Tobala mezcales in its combination of very ripe tropical fruit, saline and smoke. It’s fine in small doses but a little aggressive for my tastes in whiskey. If you’re a fan of rhum agricoles and mezcales it’s worth noting that this is one of the closest analogues I’ve found in whiskey (though I enjoy most of those far more than I enjoyed this).

Score: 3/5

Tasting Notes: Penderyn Rich Oak Single Malt

Vital Stats: 92 proof, malted barley, non-age statement, bourbon barrels and “rejuvenated” European wine casks for aging, $75

Appearance: The color of golden cane syrup, a bit viscous, and quite leggy.

Nose: A familiar fruit profile jumps out once again, with melon gummies, pineapple juice and green apple rushing to the front. There are viognier grapes and there’s a little touch saline as well.  It’s a bit hot up front, but with a few drops of water it opens up and milds the heat quite a bit. Very pleasant aromatics. 

Palate: Honeydew, graham cracker and green apple skin are the primary flavours, with some mallowfoam and a bit of green grains and rye spice on the back end. It’s considerably more full and round than the Peated expression, with a soft body and a respectable medium length finish.

There’s a bit of alcohol burn and some slightly dusty wood tannins but overall a vast improvement from the Peated expression. Layers of delicate fruits, marzipan and lightly sweet breads with some baking spices for character make this enjoyable through the last.  

Final Thoughts: The Rich Oak Single Malt is a delightful dram. The interplay between aromatic fruits, sweetness and oak tannins is very well done. It comes across as very ‘traditional’ (read: balanced) in its flavor profile, despite the relatively experimental cask regimine. This expression originated as a series of smaller releases focusing on different wine casks finishes, and I’m now very intrigued to try those. The 92 proof of this release is lower than the previous expressions and I’d love to try a cask strength version!

Score: 4/5

Tasting Notes: Penderyn Portwood Single Malt

Vital Stats: 96 proof, malted barley, non-age statement, bourbon and port casks for aging, $85

Appearance: Notably cloudy and oily, it’s the colour of dusty rose gold and less leggy than the others.

Nose: The Portwood finish makes itself known immediately and pleasingly, presenting with stewed plums, PX sherry, sun-dried wine grapes and some beguiling, frankincense-esque aromas.  There’s little to no ethanol heat to speak of. A very pleasant olfactory experience that kept me coming back.   

Palate: While not as rich and mysterious as the nose had me anticipating, it’s certainly not uninteresting. Bakers chocolate and Vin Santo stand out as the prominent flavours, with some dusty, cinchona bark like spice cabinet and Welch’s grape jelly in the background. The body seems a bit lighter than I would have anticipated as well, with a pleasing though short lived finish leaving the flavors of red berries behind. It’s not particularly tannic nor hot, though the wood grain does provide a bit of structure for the dark fruits.  

Final Thoughts: This is a very intriguing whiskey.  The nose is fantastic, if just for the mystery I found in it.  The normal Portwood finish flavours are certainly there, but there is much more going on as well. While not bad, by any means, I did find it a bit disappointing to sip. The body just wasn’t quite there to support those deep, brooding fruit and spice notes. While definitely a pleasant experience, the nose certainly set expectations a bit high for what the body could actually deliver. 

Score: 3.5/5