What do they know about making whisky in Wales? Quite a bit, apparently. Check out this awesome Penderyn Distillery Visit blog post over at Whisky for Everyone, based on their recent tour. This isn’t just a copycat operation Penderyn has going…they’ve come up with their own unique whisky-making process, from the mash used to the unique combination pot/column still used for distillation. In this Malt Advocate blog post from October, 2008, Ed Minning of Penderyn stated that the average age (at that time) of Penderyn was 4.75 to 5.5 years, with eventual “peak” maturation to take place in 6.5 to 7 years.
Disclaimer: The bottle I’m reviewing here is another freebie, but it was NOT sent to me specifically for review. I just happened to win one of the many contests that Penderyn has held on their Facebook page. Actually, I might have been the first contest winner, after which they changed their contest rules to UK-only participants because of difficulties in shipping alcohol to the United States. Many thanks to the folks at Penderyn for jumping through the necessary hoops to get my bottle to me, though.
How did I win it? Well, one of the people I follow on Twitter recommended following Penderyn there. I did so, and the first tweet I saw from them said that there was 5 minutes left in their contest to win a 700ml bottle of Penderyn. Just complete the following sentence: “I thought Penderyn was just another whisky until…” I quickly followed the link to their Facebook page and entered:
I thought Penderyn was just another whisky until I tasted this charmer with its sweet, fruity, spicy balance. A perfect example of the Scottish heritage that…What? It’s Welsh?! I must go there.”
I certainly didn’t expect to win anything, but thought somebody might find it amusing. To my surprise, whoever was picking the winner really did have a sense of humor and selected my entry!
Penderyn Aur Cymru NAS; 46%; Bottled Nov. 2009
This is the standard Penderyn [pronunciation] expression, finished in Madeira casks. The label says “Aur Cymru”, which means Welsh Gold. It’s a NAS (No Age Statement) whisky, but based on the Malt Advocate link in the intro, I’m guessing it’s at least 5 1/2 years old.Nose: Sweet and fruity, leaning to the tropical side with fruits like mango, grape, green apples and melon. The first time I tried it, the melon especially stood out. Straight out of the bottle, it’s a bit sharp, and there’s some fresh oakiness, but both of these traits die down with time in the glass, with the oak turning to vanilla.
Palate: Because of the initial sharpness on the nose, I prepared for some roughness on the palate, but it was surprisingly gentle. There is a slow developing bitterness, but it’s not very strong. As I swallow, the initial sharpness from the nose seems to playfully reach up and grab my uvula.
Finish: Melon floats up through the back of the nostrils. On the tongue, there’s a sweet bitterness like you get from orange marmalade. The finish is relatively short, but it’s longer than the likes of Chivas Regal or Glenfiddich 12 year scotches.
I talk about tropical fruits, especially mango and melons, because that’s the closest I’ve been able to come so far to describing a particular part of Penderyn profile. It doesn’t quite tell the whole story, though. There’s some other element, maybe grassy or floral, that plays a part in making this a totally unique whisky relative to the others I’ve tried. I know they talk about Penderyn maturing quickly, but I’d definitely be interested in tasting an older expression in the future, as this still feels a tad on the young side.
I like this Penderyn, but for me, it’s a mood whisky. Maybe an afternoon or early evening dram when I want something light on the palate, but with a bit of a zing to it. It’s light, but it’s certainly not boring. So, is it a novelty or the real deal? I’d say both! It’s novel, in that it is unique, but I think it has staying power…the real deal.
- Score: 81/100 points (B-) [My personal score relative to other whiskies I've tried]
- Bottom line: Light and tropical, with a bitter-sweet finish. A unique whisky likely to evoke mixed reactions. Definitely worth a try to see where you stand.
- Score higher if: When choosing a Jelly Belly pack, you go for the tropical mix; you prefer marmalade over jam.
- Score lower if: You’re not looking for something “different” in your whisky; you don’t like sweet whiskies.
- Value: Penderyn is $60 here in Arizona. I’m a bit torn on the value proposition. I rate this similar to $35-$40 whiskies I’ve tried and liked. However, I understand that this is a relatively small distillery and they probably can’t achieve the economies of scale that a Glenfiddich or Glenlivet can. I really think any whisky lover should try this at least once, though. You could try a 50ml sample to see if you want a full bottle.
Normally in this section, I would talk about other expressions by the same distillery, or whiskies I’ve tried that offer a similar profile. In this case, I have nothing to offer in either of those areas. However, I could compare this Penderyn expression to The Glenlivet 12 year in terms of overall level of enjoyment. The Glenlivet is more gentle on the nose and finish, with a focus on honey and floral notes. It’s VERY drinkable, and would be less divisive than the Penderyn when used as an introductory malt. The Penderyn, with its tropical and bitter-sweet profile, is equally smooth on the palate, but there is a sharpness on the nose and finish that keeps me alert. We’re comparing apples to melons here, but I get similar enjoyment out of both, depending on my mood. I think that’s actually pretty strong praise for the Penderyn.
I’ve talked about the unique qualities of the Penderyn profile, and that uniqueness seems to lead to quite a difference in opinion by whisky afficianados. I can certainly understand this being a divisive whisky, but I definitely recommend trying for yourself to see where you stand.
- Whiskyfun.com – A 2004 bottling of Penderyn is one of the few expressions to be completely panned by Serge, coming in at a lowly 45 points. Now, the one he tried was probably closer to a 3 year, so he may like recent bottlings more, but I would be surprised to find him suddenly rating it in the upper 80s or 90s. Note that he also got melons on the finish, likening it to a melon liqueur.
- Jim Murray (Whisky Bible link) – No direct review link, but I just wanted to point out that Jim Murray LOVES Penderyn. He’s been sampling and rating the releases monthly since 2007, with scores ranging from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, with most being upper 80s and above. The scores have varied from month to month, so it’s not just a progression based on maturation. It sounds like the flavor can vary a bit from batch to batch.
- Whisky for Everyone – In addition to the link a the top of this post, Whisky for Everyone has posted a full review of the Penderyn Madeira. They mention an herbal grassy note that might not be to everyone’s liking. This is probably the same element of the profile that I was having difficulty describing.
- whisky-pages – They give the Penderyn a good rating, but feel the Madeira might be masking an underlying immaturity that keeps peeking through.
- caskstrength.net – A good, but not great review of a Penderyn bottled one year before mine. They admit, though, that they were coming off a string of Islay whiskies before trying this one, which might have influenced their reaction to the lighter profile.
- Edinburgh Whisky Blog – A comparison/competition between Penderyn and Highland Park 12 back in 2007. The Penderyn came pretty close!
- Whisky Israel – Gal tries the Penderyn and really likes it. He noticed the oakiness on the nose, and also mentions melons in the profile.
- Dr Whisky – [Update] Dr. Whisky just added a blog post on this very expression. He finds it to be light and refreshing; an alternative to ordering a round of Jamesons in a bar. Interesting take, given the distinctive flavor in this malt.
- Drink Hacker – [Update] Another recent review, Drink Hacker also notes the bitter-sweet finish. They find some faults, but give bonus points for “moxie”, with a final rating of B+.