Penderyn was the first Welsh whisky distillery in over 100 years

There was a strong history of distillation stretching back through the ages, but whisky production mostly stopped in Wales around the early 19th century. A group of friends got together in the late 1990s and thought, you can get Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey - why can't you get a Welsh whisky? Here we are, almost 20 years later and Penderyn is a real success story. We're not trying to copy anyone: we produce Welsh whisky. It's really exciting that there's a huge movement of world whiskies. You've got great whiskies from Taiwan, Japan, India, France. And it's great that Penderyn was one of the forerunners of that.

Being a distiller wasn't quite the career plan I had in mind

My degree was in forensic science, and I had real visions of working on crime scenes. When I left university I saw a job advertised for a technical role, but it didn't actually mention whisky. So I didn't quite realise what I was applying for. I turned up for the interview and I was given 10 glasses lined up on the table, each filled with different solutions, and I had to describe what was in the glass. I scored highest and got the job. All of my training has been completely hands-on. It's not something I could have learnt at university or anywhere else.

Laura Davies sniffing a glass inside the Penderyn distillery with a colleague
Laura Davies heads a female distillation team at Penderyn

We're an all-female technical team

Penderyn never set out to have a female distillation team. We're not here just because we're female. We're here because we're the best people for the job, and we've all worked really hard to reach our positions. Having said that, there's quite a lot of research which suggests that females have a better nose and sensing ability, and I think that's certainly true.

Making whisky is both simple… and highly technical

We take malted barley and pass it into our mash tun with hot water. The water comes from our own borehole underneath the distillery. It's drawn from deep in the Brecon Beacons so it's a steady, clean supply of lovely soft water. Over the next eight or nine hours we extract the sugars from the malted barley. When we have that sugary liquid, called the 'wort', we pass it into our fermentation tanks, add yeast and allow that to ferment. Once that's fermented we fill the 'wash' into our stills and distil it for anything from six to twelve hours. We have two unique Faraday stills which give us a really pure, high-strength light spirit with lots of fruit and flavour. It gives us a great spirit to start off with, and when it goes into a cask it can only get better from there.

Malted barley in the Penderyn distillery
A Faraday still at the Penderyn distillery used to produce whisky
Malted barley and a Faraday still at the distillery

It takes at least three years for spirit to become whisky

We've currently got eight or nine thousand casks in our maturation warehouse, just biding their time, waiting until the moment's right. We've got a whole range of casks - madeira, port, sherry, bourbon, peated - and we work with all of those to create our different expressions. Once we feel the whisky's reached its full potential we start sampling. You have to be very careful to blend whiskies together so all the different casks you're using work together and complement each other.

A hand holding a small glass of whisky in the air at the Penderyn distillery
Barrels in the Penderyn distillery
Sampling the goods, and some of the thousands of barrels at the distillery

Our signature style is our madeira finish

The classic Penderyn expression is put together using bourbon casks and madeira wine casks to give you a lovely soft, creamy, toffee sort of flavour, and lots of fruit: sultanas, apples. It gives you a really smooth full-bodied whisky. One of our other popular expressions is our port finish. It's got a deep red colour, and a really rich syrupy wine sort of finish, with a lovely velvety feel in the mouth, with lots of dark chocolate and strawberry notes.

Sometimes we come across real gems

Occasionally we come across a whisky that's really great, and it would be a shame to lose those qualities in a normal whisky batch. So we bottle it as a special edition on its own, two or three hundred bottles from the cask, each in its own hand-stencilled box signed by the distillery team. They're highly collectible.

You can add anything you like… if you really want to

If you're kind enough to buy our whisky, then you should enjoy it however you want it. I'm not going to tell you that you can't add water or ice. But I'm a strong believer that the best way to enjoy it is as it comes. It took a lot of hard work and craft to get it to that point and I think it's worth enjoying as it is. One of the great things about whisky is it's so versatile. You can drink it on its own but equally you can pair it with anything you like. Our port wood goes really well with dark chocolate or a cheeseboard. And our peated whisky works really well with a lamb Sunday lunch.

Whisky bottles on the production line at the Penderyn distillery
The finished article on the Penderyn production line

For years we avoided using a Welsh dragon on our bottles

We didn't want to be known just because we were Welsh. We wanted people to be really proud of the brand because they liked the product. But then some of our importers said, 'Your products are great but a lot of people don't know about Wales.' Now our Dragon range really stands out and it's helping to bring Wales to the rest of the world. We've also got our Icons of Wales series, which celebrates big moments in Welsh history. That's been great to raise our profile across the world.

The visitor centre is hugely important to us

Last year we welcomed 40,000 visitors to our visitor centre. Whisky is all about telling stories, and explaining to people what we do and why we do it, letting them see the care and attention we put into our products. Every single person who takes the time to come and visit us leaves as a brand ambassador. We get visitors from across the world and they take that message home with them. It helps that we're really lucky to be surrounded by some of the best scenery in Wales.

Further information

Visit the Penderyn Whisky website: http://penderyn.wales/

Follow Penderyn Whisky on social media - Twitter and Instagram

Feeling inspired to discover the area? We've got plenty of information to help you plan a trip to the Brecon Beacons.

Wales is home to many award winning vineyards, distilleries and breweries - search for ones you can visit on our website.

 

Henrhyd Falls in the Brecon Beacons National Park
A sign post showing the place names Rhigos, Brecon and Ystradfellte
The breathtaking Henrhyd Falls; the Penderyn distillery is situated in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons

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