I took a stroll this morning, over misty fields and lonely roads. I was greeted with deer, staring at me, as if I was an intruder in their realm. I took a bottle of Penderyn’s Rhiannon with me, and spent a couple of hours in a state of visual meditation. If I could write this review by whispering, I would. Just imagine a hush-hush asmr voice reading this to you.
I am not kidding about the ‘hush-hush’ voice. My early morning walk in the mist was the perfect setting to get some inspiration for this review of Penderyn’s Rhiannon, an expression finished on Sherrywood Grand Cru. The setting was perfect: deer in the distance, a tree popping out of the mist, a mere 2°C, and my dram slowly fogging up as I was taking more pictures. This is ‘the morning after’, as I reviewed Penderyn’s iconic expression in last night’s wee hours.
A man and his whisky. Bliss.
Penderyn, the One True Welsh Distillery
Before I reveal my tasting notes and impression of Penderyn’s excellent expression, I would like to give some additional information about this Welsh distillery. I can imagine not a lot of people are familiar with Penderyn, let alone Welsh whisky. Luckily, and rightly-so, the distillery has been getting more and more attention from the community, as their expressions are of high quality and just a tad different from what you might expect, and I mean that in the good way.
Welsh whisky production goes back as far as medieval times, Wikipedia informs me. It continued with varied succes and popularity, until its demise in the late 19th century. About one hundred years later, in the late 1990s, a couple of friends decided to bring back ‘the lost art‘: “in a pub in a small post-industrial Welsh valley town, a group of friends drank and chatted about establishing the first whisky distillery in Wales in over a century. They dreamt of creating a whisky as pure and precious as Welsh gold, represented today by Penderyn’s ‘gold seam’. The friends had a location in the historic village of Penderyn on the southern tip of the Brecon Beacons, chosen because of the site’s own supply of fresh natural spring water. They also had a unique copper single–pot still designed by Dr David Faraday, a relative of the great 19th-century scientist Michael Faraday” (penderyn.wales).
Penderyn produces award–winning spirits, which include gin and whisky. Their expressions tend to score high marks in competitions, and some of their bottles were even lauded at least year’s Spirits Business Design Awards. ‘Good for them’, I thought. The last Penderyn expression I tasted was “Legend” (Dragon core range), which I consider a basic but decent young whisky. It’s good to return to the brand, as the very prolific distillery disappeared off my radar, but has now found its way back.
Rhiannon, Icons of Wales #7
One of the ranges Penderyn has on offer is the “Icons of Wales” range, bringing homage to highly-respected, illustrous, and sometimes even forgotten elements of Welsh culture. The range includes whiskies linked to opera singer Bryn Terfel (best known for his role as Falstaff in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor), the fantastic Dylan Thomas (writer, poet, broadcaster), but also the “Red Flag‘, a symbol for social protest, first raised in 1831 during the Merthyr Rising, and even “That Try“, recalling the iconic rugby game played at Cardiff Arms Park in 27th January 1973. Penderyn likes to commemorate the Welsh identity!
The newest release in this range is simply called “Rhiannon“, referring to a female character from the earliest prose works in Britain, The Mabinogi (11th century). The character is described as “intelligent, generous, strong–willed, otherworldly, adept at strategic planning and gifted with both supernatural and physical powers” (penderyn.wales). In a post-metoo society, there is a lot to be learned from times long forgotten: there are strong women out there today, but they have been around for centuries! And Fleetwood Mac even made a song about her.
But is the expression as respectable as its icon? Well, yes, it is. And it even offers up notes that are feminine, delicate, but also robust. In other words: yes, I liked this one.
The expression, which was finished on Sherrywood Grand Cru, opens with the scent of sultanas and dry white sherry, with sweeter elements of caramel, pear, and a hint of vanilla following after the dram had some time to ‘breathe’. This was the moment I knew the expression had more to offer than a simple “sherry finish”.
The first sip introduces you to flavours reminding me of white wine (Chardonnay?), with a spicy element to tickle the tongue. Next, sweet caramel and just a note of coffee right at the end. The texture is very liquidy, and I had the impression it was even softer than water. Is that possible?
The finish rewards us with a lingering sweetness, combined with a drier element, and clear oak notes, very similar to Pineau des Charentes (a matured fortified wine made from a blend of grape juice or fermented grape must and cognac).
I was impressed by this expression. The artwork of the bottle is one of the best I have ever seen, and the tasting notes prove that there is so much more to be explored in the realm of ‘sherry-finish’ whiskies. I’m looking forward to delving into this brand even further. I heard they have single cask expressions as well…
Bonus: local wildlife I encountered during my photoshoot!
Photos are © Mickaël Van Nieuwenhove