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Archive for the ‘Penderyn’ Category

Introduction

Today, I’m comparing three Penderyn [the only whisky distillery in Wales] expressions to see which I like best. Back at the beginning of the year, I posted a review of the standard Penderyn Madeira Finish expression. I thought it was a good, and very different tasting whisky. As far as enjoyment level, I thought it fit right in with the likes of Glenfidich 12 and Glenlivet 12. Pretty good for a 5 to 6 year old whisky. Although, the folks at Penderyn would likely point out that their unique distillation process ages the spirit faster than more traditional means. To learn more about the distillery, I recommend reading this great post from the folks at Whisky for Everyone.

I was fortunate enough to get 50ml samples of Penderyn’s Sherrywood and Peated expressions from the distillery. These two additional expressions are due to hit the shelves in the United States in October 2010, and I was curious to see which of the three would be my favorite. All three expressions should have a suggested retail price around $70. The Sherrywood is made from a combination of Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Oloroso Sherry casks. The Peated expression is not made from peated barley. Rather, they mature it in a combination of Bourbon casks and casks previously used to mature peated Scotch whisky from Islay.

Three Penderyn whiskies

Tasting

Let’s revisit the Penderyn Madiera Finish, then compare the others. Keep in mind that this is a small distillery, with bottlings created in batches (dates marked on the bottle). There could potentially be a fair amount of variance between the batches I’ve tried and other batches produced.

Note: All three expressions are bottled at 46%, which probably helped earn them an extra point. The dates listed correspond with the particular batches that I tried.

Penderyn Madiera (Nov 09) – I still find the nose to be fruity and topical, and a little bit sharp when initially poured. I’m also getting a pretty strong pine needle smell that I’m surprised I didn’t place the first time around. After some time in the glass, the pine dies down a little, and more vanilla appears. I definitely prefer this whisky after it sits in the glass for 20 minutes or so. The palate is lively and youthful, but not harsh. Still fruity, a marmalade bitterness is introduced heading into the finish that builds and lingers. Different. Perfectly enjoyable. 81 points.

Penderyn Peated (Sep 09) – This one has a very clear family resemblance to the Madeira finish. The unique distillery presentation of tropical fruits is there, but with an added twist…there is a citrus component that leans towards grapefruit. There is fresh oak and a little smoke, but I’m not really getting pine with this one. It’s vibrant on the palate, but like the Madeira finish, feels a bit on the young side. The grapefruit persists into the finish, accompanied by smoke. Grapefruit wrapped in tin foil and cooked on an open flame? Another very different whisk(e)y experience. I like it about the same as the Madeira finish, I suppose. 81 points.

Penderyn Sherrywood (June 08) – On the nose, this is much more Scottish (not sure how the Penderyn folks would feel about that). It’s very relaxed relative to the Madeira and Peated expressions. Definite sherry influence, with dried fruits, but also increased oak and vanilla. Quite a bit of vanilla, in fact. On the palate, it continues to be smooth and laid back. On the back of the palate, and into the finish, some of the youthful spirit and tropical fruits appear. The finish itself is quite smooth and lacks some of the marmalade bitterness of the other expressions. Even with similarities in places, it would be easy to mistake the Sherrywood for a different distillery from the other two expressions. The profile of the Sherrywood bottling is more my style. It reminds me of Aberlour 12 year, though not quite as rich as that one. It’s my favorite Penderyn so far, and one I would comfortably offer to whisky newbies as a very “accessible” single malt. 83 points.

Comments – Penderyn is a young company, having just started producing whisky 10 years ago. So far, I find their expressions to be in the good, but not great range relative to other whiskies I’ve tried. However, their distillery profile is quite unique. Because of this, I’ll probably make a point of keeping a bottle of Penderyn in my whisky cabinet. I’m also hopeful that as the company and its whisky continues to mature, truly great bottlings will follow. Perhaps sooner rather than later. If you get a chance to try any of the Penderyn expressions, take advantage of the opportunity. It should be a unique experience, and it might really float your boat. In fact, Jim Murray of Whisky Bible fame already finds many of the Penderyn bottlings to be top notch.

Other Opinions of Penderyn Sherrywood and Peated

It looks like the Penderyn folks distributed a bunch of samples from the same Sherrywood batch. All of the Sherrywood review links below are for the June ’08 bottling, as is Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible review, where he gave it 91 points. JM also reviewed several Peated batches, with scores ranging from 78 to 92.5.

  • Whiskyfun – This whiskyfun article compares the Madeira with the Sherrywood and scores them 70 and 80 points respectively. However, the Madeira sample he reviewed was from 2004, likely making it a couple years younger than the one I have.
  • WhiskyNotes.be – Ruben reviews the Sherrywood release. While I thought the Sherrywood really closed the flavor profile gap between the other Penderyn expressions and Scotch whisky, Ruben still finds it quite different. He gives it 82 points.
  • Whisky Boys - The Whisky “Boys” do a Double Welsh Whisky Tasting of Peated and Sherrywood, much preferring the Sherrywood expression.

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Introduction

Penderyn Welsh Whisky

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!

Tasting Notes

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.

Comments:

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.

Rating

  • 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.

Comparisons

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.

Other Opinions

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+.

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