By Richard Thomas
Red Flag is the inaugural expression of Penderyn’s “Icons of Wales” series. The Welsh distillery intends to release 50 of these limited edition Welsh whiskeys, each one highlighting an exemplary slice of Welsh history.
In the case of Red Flag, that historic slice is the 1831 Merthyr Rising. The rising was the climax of years of smoldering unrest of the coal miners in Merthyr Tydfil, a town in southern Wales. Protests broke out in early May, and by the end of the month the entire area was in revolt and flying the red flag of rebellion.
The debtor’s court was sacked, and debt records destroyed. Protestors agitated at the mines and demanded the lowering of the price of bread, and eventually the army was sent in to protect property. In June, the demonstrators clashed with the 93rd Highlanders, who were driven to seek refuge in Penydarren House and abandon the town to looting and riot.
Eventually the violent side of the rising subsided, and by early June order was restored. Several people were sentenced to deportation to Australia for their part in the rising, some were imprisoned, and only one rebel was executed. This was a man known as Dic Penderyn, sentenced to death for stabbing a Highlander in the leg with a bayonet.
Red Flag is bottled in a variation of Penderny’s typical style. It’s still in a clear glass wine-style bottle, has a classy heavy foil wrapper, and comes with a plastic and cork stopper. However, in place of the modernist inked label on the bottle, Red Flag has a more traditional label with art depicting the Merthyr Rising. The whiskey was bottled at 41% abv.
This is the second Madeira-finished single malt to come from Penderyn, so I was eager to compare it to my memory and notes of the first one. It’s not as strong as the company’s core single malt (41% to 46%), but the coloring is of the same vein. Red Flag has a light gold appearance, akin to a full-bodied, hefty and bold white wine, but perhaps just a shade deeper and darker than that.
The nose has the sweetness of an apple crumble, with an apple core rounded out by light touches of vanilla, cookie spice, and lemon. There is a note of saltiness there too, and a little bit of wood. The flavor continues from there, with a center of sweet apple crumble flavors, a little maltiness and a little woodiness, and a dash of pepper. The whiskey has a silky texture to it that really enhances the sweet side, while the woody and peppery notes lend it some complexity. The finish rolls off the peppery bite, unwinding slowly, but with a little warmth, and leaving a tobacco aftertaste.
While one might enjoy Red Flag as a sipping whiskey, where I think it would be a real winner is as a digestive or desert whiskey. It’s sweet, flavorful nature and the low level of warmth in the finish make it a real after dinner treat.
Penderyn’s Red Flag is listed at £39.98 on their website. I haven’t seen it listed anywhere in the United States as of yet, but that converts to $60.