For the past few months, each time I have gone browsing at my local liquor store, I've found myself drawn to a few bottles of Penderyn Welsh Whisky sitting high on a shelf. A fair chunk of my ancestors came from the Principality and I was intrigued -- though not enough actuallly plunk out the cash to pick up a bottle as it's a little on the hefty side at $70+ per bottle and I've found plenty of other items to drain my spirits budget. (Came across several bottles of the BT Experimental Collection recently, for example, and couldn't pass them up -- but that's another story.) I was fortunate enough, though, to get a chance to sample a glass of it in a bar recently and thought I'd share some of my impressions here. (Spoiler alert: I'm now willing to plunk out the cash to pick up a bottle or two.)
First a little background: Penderyn is fairly new to the market and the only whisky to be distilled (legally anyway) in Wales for over 100 years. It's a single malt produced, unsurprisingly, at Penderyn distillery, one of the few independents around. It's produced in a small still of unique design one cask at a time (which, no doubt, adds to the price). The maturation process is also a bit involved -- the whisky is initially aged in American barrels primarily from Buffalo Trace (which makes for a good start I think) with others from Evan Williams (in a nod to Welsh distilling heritage) and perhaps some Tennessee whiskey barrels as well. Afterwards, it is finished in Madeira barrels, which seemed to me to add something special to the blend.
It has a very light appearance (which foreshadows its taste a bit), sort of a pale gold. On the nose, you can detect a bit of alcohol warmth (it's at 46% abv) along with honey, oak, some floral notes and a gentle whiff of the Madeira. I found the initial taste to show off the lightness with floral notes, a bit of honey, sherry (presumably Madeira, actually) and, in line with the official tasting notes from the distillery (which I purposefully did not read in advance) a "fleeting" heather. In fact, it was the heather that caught my attention the most just because it seemed to shimmer into and then quickly out of perception and my taste buds kept straining to catch it. (Even as I write this I know it sounds flowery to the point of silliness but I did, in fact, find myself trying to catch the heather taste.) After that, a bit of oak comes through with some bourbon notes and finishes with a bit of fruit (apples?) and some pepper along with a fair amount of alcohol heat.
It was, on the whole, quite a pleasant experience. A thicker mouthfeel than what one would expect from the color, but otherwise a light, subtle drink. It's not likely to be my everyday tipple, but I'll certainly be adding it to the lineup when I feel like something that teases with flavors rather than coming fullbore on the tongue.
Has anybody else tried it? I know some people have said they didn't pick up much Madeira but it seemed to be an important, though not overwhelming, component to my palate.
[P]eople drink them like cocktails, forgetting that a good julep holds at least five ounces of Bourbon. Men fall face-down unconscious, women wander in the woods disconsolate and amnesiac.... - Walker Percy