By Richard Thomas
The Welsh distillery Penderyn is one of the most interesting whiskey-makers I have come across in recent years, and not solely because they are Welsh. Penderyn is the only distillery in the business of making Welsh whiskey, freeing them from certain trade laws and industrial groups, such as the Scotch Whisky Association. It gives them room to experiment in producing their whiskeys, like the Peated Single Malt.
To cite just one example, Penderyn’s still is a one-of-a-kind. Invented by Dr. David Faraday, a descendant of famed electromagnetic scientist Michael Faraday, it is a single copper pot still, as opposed to the double- and triple-pot stills often used in Irish whiskey and scotch. The design is aimed at producing the purest, most distilled product possible. The malted barley mash is distilled to 92% alcohol, the highest alcohol content used by any new malt whiskey today.* Every work day, the still is filled with mash, and every day Penderyn produces just enough new whiskey to fill one barrel.
The initial maturation for Penderyn Peated Single Malt is carried out in ex-bourbon casks, similar to other Penderyn whiskeys. A high proportion of those bourbon barrels come from Buffalo Trace, in my former stomping grounds of Franklin County, Kentucky. Others come from Evan Williams, the Welshman who was so influential to American whiskey-making. Upon reaching maturity, the whiskey is transferred to ex-peated scotch casks for finishing.
The Peated Single Malt is bottled at 46% alcohol, in Penderyn’s customary Euro-modern, wine-influenced style. The whiskey has no aging statement, and is not chill-filtered. Penderyn only ships 5,000 bottles of Peated Single Malt per year.
In the glass, the whiskey has a pale wheat-gold color that resembles nothing so much as white wine. Once again, Penderyn’s bottle looks like wine, and so does the whiskey within! The scent of the Peated Single Malt is quite aromatic (I was able to pick up hints of it from across the room while I was waiting for the whiskey to breathe). It isn’t as smoky as one might expect a peated malt to be. Instead, it has a sharp, fruity scent, packed with crisp, green apples and citrus notes. The smoke is there, but subdued beneath the sweetness.
On the palate, Penderyn the peat flavors stay mellow. They are there, subtly intertwined with the whiskey’s woodiness, but there is none of the powerful, smoky character I would expect from a whiskey aged in bourbon and peated barrels. It’s sweet first, peaty and woody second, and then just a little spicy. The finish is crisp and lingering, and it is there that the peat finally comes to the forefront. There is something pleasant about that for a peat fan, since it means the peaty flavor stays on your tongue for quite a while between sips. The spiciness increases with the finish as well.
Penderyn’s Peated Single Malt is available through online retailers for around $65, although shipping and handling is not included. €46 or €47 seems to be the norm in Europe. Keep in mind this is a micro-distillery scotch, and a specialty liquor store might mark the Peated Single Malt up quite a bit before putting it on the shelves, so buyer beware! If you order from Penderyn or otherwise in the UK, expect to pay £43 or £44.
The Peated Single Malt won a silver medal and “Best in Class” from the 2008 International Wine and Spirits Competition.
* The law allows Irish whiskey and scotch to be distilled up to 94.8%, but that does not necessarily mean that new spirits are distilled to the maximum concentration allowed.