Gwalia Distillery Penderyn

So many tales of the foundations of new distilleries start in a pub and the Penderyn distillery, situated in the Cynon Valley of South Wales is no exception. It was the late 1990’s and Alun Evans was having a drink with friends and wondering why there was no distillery in the whole of Wales. Obviously there had been distilling in the country but that had ended some time in the late 1890’s. So, as the legend has it, they decided that they would create a whisky as pure and precious as Welsh gold, which is represented today in the seam of gold logo that adorns the bottles.

Not long after that, in 2000, the Welsh Whisky Company was founded by Evans and on St David’s day 2004 the whisky was launched. Right from the very start they decided that they were gong to do things a little different to how they were done in Scotland. Now, what you have to remember is that this way of thinking is not pretty much par for the course for any new distillery being built theses days, but back in 2000, this was pretty much the first new distillery to be constructed in Great Britain, so they were the first to do things a bit differently.
Those differences began right at the beginning of the whisky making process. Instead of milling and mashing barley on site to create a wort, they decided to start with Brains Beer base instead. As I said, for many new distilleries teaming up with a brewery is nothing new now, but back in the day, it certainly was. In a rather nice circle, the Brains brewery have since created a 6.5% IPA which is matured with Penderyn infused oak chips in ex-Penderyn casks.

The next point of difference is with their still. Instead of using the traditional Scottish blueprint of a large wash still and a second smaller spirit still they decided to instal just the one still and a custom made one at that. Dr David Faraday of Surry University, who together with his team had designed a hybrid pot/ column still that was capable of distilling up to 92% abv in a single pass.

Technically the still has just the one column but in order to make it fit into the building it had to be split into two columns. The first column is fitted with 6 rectifying plates and the second column has 18. The spirit itself is drawn off at the 7th plate with any vapour rising higher refluxed back into the pot. A new replica Faraday still was installed in 2013 along with two traditional pot stills, which has allowed the distillery to widen the range of spirits that they can make. The first bottling to contain some of this pot matured spirit was the 8th release in their ‘Icons of Wales’ series called Hiraeth.

The resulting new make spirit is quite light and elegant, which led the late Dr Jim Swann, who was consulting on their wood policy to decide that their flagship release should be an unpeated spirit, initially aged in ex-Bourbon and finished in ex-Madeira casks. They also bottle a ‘Sherrywood’ release which is a vattng of 70% ex-Bourbon casks and 30% ex-Sherry, a Port finish, a bottling called ‘Rich Oak’ oak which features whisky aged in a combination of ex-Bourbon and rejuvenated casks.

Finally, there is a peated release, which isn’t made in the ‘traditional’ way from peated barley, but it is their unpeated spirit which has been matured in ex-peated casks. Apparently, this was a complete accident as they discovered that some of the refill casks that they purchased from Scotland once held peated whisky and imparted that character on to the Penderyn spirit. That bottling proved to be so popular that they decided to keep it as part of their core range. In fact, all of their ‘Gold’ range have won numerous awards and are well worth investigating.
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