I often talk about the romance and the incredible storytelling you find within the whisky community of drinkers and brands, and the story of Welsh whisky Penderyn only adds to that romance.
Recently I was fortunate enough to be granted an interview with Laura Davies, a distiller at Penderyn, but before I get into the detail of our chat, it is probably a good idea to introduce you to Welsh whisky Penderyn.
Despite the Penderyn Distillery, formerly Welsh Whisky Company, only being founded in 2000 with sales being registered since 2004, it has a back story that spans centuries. Records show whisky being produced in Wales until being shut down in 1894, it took just over a century for it to resume again.
Fittingly for a Welsh whisky Penderyn was launched on St. David’s Day in the presence of HRH Prince Charles and the philosophy imbued within the business are fascinating:
“In a world of globalised, multi-national and multi-brand companies it is important to understand that Penderyn is a small distillery. In fact we are very, very small. Some distilleries, even premium brands, produce more in a day than we produce in a year. (There is more Chateau d’Yquem released each year than Penderyn).”
They are fiercely proud of their Faraday still, unlike most other distilleries they have a single copper still that runs 24/7 and produces the Penderyn whiskies at 46% ABV. I will let you explore more at www.welsh-whisky.co.uk, now for the interview.
Easy one to start with Laura, what’s your role and can you give me an overview of your typical day?
After that I would usually go and check the management of the stills, our stills don’t have any down time so ensuring the operational efficiency is at its best is a must. Other duties involve heading to the warehouse to sample, nose and taste the whisky. Myself and the Master Distiller meet once a month and go through around 200 samples to see which ones are ready to be put into the relevant batches.
What makes Welsh whisky in general special? How is it competing against Scotch?
Laura: We do not need to compete with Scotch to an extent, we are the only Welsh whisky so leverage that story. We never set out to compete with Scotch whisky but we hope people choose us as we offer something quite unique that should be recognisably Penderyn.
Who is Penderyn whisky looking to target?
Laura: We are a premium brand, we do not make huge batches, we make small batches each month. We are more for people who know whisky and want to appreciate whisky. We select every cask individually, everything about us from brand to packaging to taste to ingredients is intentionally premium.
Our product’s lightness of taste is really good for whisky beginners, especially our 41% Madeira-finished whisky.
We want to become a world class product because of the product, not because we are Welsh. We talk about where we are from and we are proud of it, we even have bi-lingual packaging, but there are no cliches here, our product does the talking.
How do the best whiskies appeal to both the connoisseurs and the gifters?
Laura: Whisky brands need a range that is not too big to confuse people but a range with enough to intrigue people, for example the Madeira 41% is very smooth, delicate and easy to drink so can appeal to most but we also have a single cask whisky that is a lot more complex. These are typically the symbol of the best a distillery can produce.
One of the things we do here is to not only offer tours but invite people to come in to the distillery for a masterclass with their tour, we find that people who know very little about whisky can get to understand and become nearly-experts within a matter of hours.
How does travel retail help whisky brands?
Laura: It can be very useful as people have quite a lot of time to kill at an airport with no children to harass them as they would in a supermarket, they have to stop, look and listen so they have time to think and enjoy their retail experience.
What works with us is the unique packaging and we take the time to train staff and people within the airport environment.
Aside from Penderyn, what are the top three whiskies you enjoy?
Laura: Good question! I would probably say: Taiwanese whisky Kavalan, Compass Box whiskies – I love the experimental quirkiness and the branding they have… finally, I would say the Auchentoshan range – their brand is lovely and they have great products, a nice balance between traditional and modern.
Finally, in your opinion, what makes receiving a whisky gift special? i.e. someone knowing your preferred taste or being unique / rare
Dylan – available from the website and widely available in Wales, bottled end of May.