Similarly to its neighbour England, Wales has a much longer history of distillation than many would suppose. The first evidence of the presence of stills in the country has been dated to the 4th Century and historical records and photographs document a true commercial site that was in operation during the 19th Century. Frongoch Distillery was located near Bala in Merionethshire (north of Caernarfonshire). Frongoch was far from a diminutive site with a capacity to produce 150K gallons of spirit a year. However, it was certainly a short-lived one – founded in 1889, shuttered by 1903 and liquidated by 1910. A mere 14 years of production and a legacy undoubtedly influenced by the growth of the temperance movement throughout Wales.
Similarly to its neighbour England, drinking booze has long been an ingrained feature of day-to-day life in Wales. And in parallel to England’s industrial heartlands and North – the consumption of alcohol reached a zenith within Wales’s newly created industrial regions during the 19th Century. Hard physical toil in iron smelting facilities, quarries and coal mines resulted in workers to seeking out the solace of wet, boozy embrace in the many bars and beer houses of industrial towns – to the detriment of productivity and to the ire of wives who saw hard-earned money being spent on alcohol before it was spent on families.
Whilst temperance was not a new phenomenon, the opening of the first temperance hotel (in England) in 1833 quickly resulted in the rapid spread of the movement. By 1835 there was 25+ temperance societies established across Wales – initially evangelising moderation as opposed to abstinence – though by 1850 turning heavily toward abolitionism. Whilst leading temperance members campaigned for many years for the closure of all public houses within Wales, it was only Sunday closing (introduced in 1881) that saw the belief entrenched into law. However, that history runs exceptionally deep. It was not until 2003 that Welsh pubs across all regions, counties and towns were once again able to open on Sundays.
Penderyn is very much the successor to Frongoch – and the inspiration that has led to the development of Aber Falls, Anglesey Mon, Coles, Da Mhile and In the Welsh Wind. Welsh whisky looks to be heading for a period of new and rude health – a far cry from the 120 years of licensing malarky that undoubtedly acted as an additional restraint on any potential resurgence (along with two world wars and their repercussions I hasten to add) during the 20th Century. Whilst there are just 6 distilleries producing or looking to produce whisky in Wales, I very much doubt that the number won’t grow further over the years to come.
Boutique-y Whisky’s maiden Penderyn is behind Door No.2 in their 2021 Advent Calendar – it’s a 6 year old single malt, from a batch of 237 bottles (a single ex-bourbon cask no doubt) rectified to 50% ABV. The expression was released as part of the bottler’s ‘Home Nation Series’ – which featured a selection of “…lesser known small-batch craft whiskies” drawn from across the UK and Ireland. You’ll find it via Master of Malt for £64.95.
For alternative views on this whisky, once you’re done here, do head over to visit Sorren at OCD Whisky and Brian at Brian's Malt Musings.
Nose: Herbal, resinous and zesty. Parsley, coriander seed and hawthorn join a mingling of fir cones and tree sap whilst orange and peach juice sit alongside burnt parchment paper. The addition of water results in grassiness together with malt loaf and cracker bread.
Taste: On the arrival – thickness with a texture derived from tinned peaches and golden syrup. Spices explode onto the palate with Szechuan chilli and a hearty grind of black pepper and ground cloves. A little piquant and hot. Dry soils and browned leaves follow together with an assortment of sweet stone fruits – providing a needed tempering effect. Water dials everything down producing aromatic clove oil, vanilla essence and sawdust. However, resting is well-rewarded here – after 10 minutes in the glass the underlying fruitiness of the distillate resurfaces offering a melange of tinned orchard and stone fruits together with an altogether improved balance.
Finish: Medium with cereals, reeds, flax and persistent spice. When reduced – this profile is retained, but with far more equilibrium.
Well well. This is most certainly a whisky that repays a little patience. Boutique-y’s first batch of Penderyn comes in pretty hot and wild straight out of the bottle – but diluted and relaxed it presents far more of its central character and a greatly improved overall drinkability. And so, my initial score gets scrubbed out and a few points are added back in. Good things come to those that wait.