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A wysgi to toast Wales’ patron saint

Penderyn USA 300dpiBy Alan J. Wax

Quick, name a Celtic saint celebrated in March.

Bet you picked St. Patrick.

Ever hear of St. David, the patron saint of Wales? For centuries, March 1 has been a national festival day in Wales, commemorating St. David as a national patron saint at the height of Welsh resistance to the Normans. Outside of Wales, the day is only celebrated by Welsh societies with dinners, parties, and recitals.

According to tradition, St. David was the son of King Sant of South Wales and St. Non. He was ordained a priest and later studied under St. Paulinus. Later, he was involved in missionary work and founded a number of monasteries. The monastery he founded at Menevia  in Southwestern Wales was noted for extreme asceticism. David and his monks drank neither wine nor beer – only water – while putting in a full day of heavy manual labor and intense study.

Given St. David’s asceticism, we might consider toasting him a sacrilegious act. But what the heck, we’re always looking for a reason to imbibe and what could be a better libation for this day than Penderyn single malt wysgi, the only malt whisky distilled in Wales.

It’s a relatively new product. Whisky making largely disappeared from Wales, which like other Celtic lands had a rich whisky history, in the last part of 19th Century. Then along came the Welsh Whisky Co.,  which located its Penderyn distiller in the Brecon Beacons National Park in 2000. It was the first distillery in the country in more than a hundred years. Penderyn released its first distilled product on St. David’s Day in 2004.

The distiller, which produces just one barrel a day, boasts that it draws water exclusively from a well that taps the carboniferous limestone deep below the distillery. It also attributed its house style derives to the use of two types of casks. For the initial maturation, the distillery uses hand-selected Evan Williams and Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. Later, the wysgi is transferred to Portuguese barriques that previously nurtured Madeira wine. Each cask is closely watched and regularly nosed until it has reached the standard of the distiller’s consulting master distiller, Jim Swan, a global authority on wood management.

The whisky carries no age statement, but in a 2008 post on the Whiskey Advocate’s blog, Penderyn’s Ed Minning stated that the average age (at that time) of Penderyn was 4.75 to 5.5 years, with eventual “peak” maturation to take place in 6.5 to 7 years.

Penderyn’s still, the company claims, is unlike any other: a single copper-pot still invented by Dr. David Faraday, descendent of the ground-breaking Victorian scientist, Michael Faraday. The still removes almost all of the undesirable chemical compounds which a conventional two or three pot system cannot. This is how Penderyn starts to differentiate itself from traditional Scottish and Irish whiskies. It’s bottled at 46 percent ABV or 92 proof.

Penderyn whisky starts out with an 8 percent ABV barley wash supplied by brewers S. A. Brain & Co. in Cardiff, which has been around since 1882 and is considered Wales’s premier private brewery.

The whisky’s garnered a few awards including winner of the Best World Whisky Gold Medal at the 2012 & 2013 International Whisky Competition and gold at the 2014 International Spirits Challenge for Best Cask finish whisky.

So, how’s it taste? It’s a light golden spirit with, not surprisingly, a big alcoholic bite from the 46% ABV. The nose suggests creamy toffee. On the palate I picked up notes of pears, mangoes and vanilla along with a suggestion of sweetness. The finish, albeit, is on the short side. I’d rate it 3/5.

Nevertheless, it’s a unique spirit and once malt fanciers ought to try. St. David’s Day, as we said, could be the perfect time.


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Highlands distiller Knockdhu adds some smoke to its AnCnoc single malts

Distiller pays homage to its heritage with a series of limited edition peaty expressions

By Alan J. Wax

A distillery in Scotland’s Highlands region, an area largely known for its floral, sweetish, fruity single-malt whiskies, now is offering something for those who enjoy a bit of smoke in their libation.

The Knockdhu Distillery, which more than a century ago began producing whisky with a strong peaty flavor imparted from the turf-fired malts available at the time, now, has recently released a limited edition collection of peaty whiskiess with bolder, smokier flavors under its AnCnoc. (pronounced a-NOCK) brand

The collection includes three expressions, Rutter, Flaughter and Tushkar—named after traditional peat-cutting tools. Rutter and Flaughter currently are available in the U.S., while Tushkar, for now, only is currently available in Sweden.

For many imbibers, peat smoke is a key flavor in whisky and for others it may be the reason they don’t drink whisky. While few whiskies are actually noticeably peaty, peatiness, or smokiness, has become one of the best-known characteristics of Scotch whisky, and it’s through this smoke character that distilleries try to define themselves.

Traditionally, the more peated the barley, the higher the phenol levels in the spirit, and the smokier the whisky will taste. Peatiness is measured in PPM, or phenol parts per million.

The new AnCnoc whiskys display their PPM level on their labels, allowing the drinker to select an expression with a level of smokiness to their liking.

I have to admit, I am not much of a fan of such extreme smokey expressions as Ardberg, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroig and Talikser. I still recall my first sample of Caol Ila, which suggested licking a newly tarred road. No, personally I favor fruity, floral, sweetish whiskies from the Highlands and the Speyside whisky regions.

Playing with the character of their spirits seems to have become de regueur for some producers in recent years. I believe in marketing terms, they’re considered brand extensions.

But, I’m always game to try something new.





AnCnoc Rutter, the first release in the collection, is named for the spade used in sizing and separating peat blocks. Peated to a PPM of 11, this golden-hued whisky initially reeks of burnt wood and earth and then gives way to delicate spices, sweet tones, tropical fruit-like esters, notes of minerals and a hint of vanilla. It’s quite drinkable.

anCnoc Flaughter (pronounced FLAH-ter) is named for the spade used to remove the top layer of peat. Peated to a PPM of 14.8, the pale gold, whisky offers up aromas and flavors of ash mixed with sweet melon notes, hints of vanilla oak and a long-spicy finish. Despite its higher PPM, this seems a more mellow whisky that its companion expression.

The AnCnoc Tushkar is said to be the most peated ot the trio, at 15 ppm, but was not available for tasting.

Both Rutter and Flaugher currently are available at U.S. spirits retailers with a suggested retail price of $85 for a 750 ml bottle.

I have tasted the smoke and I like it.


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Finding rare Scotch whiskies among Edinburgh’s tourist traps

The little shop on Cannongate: Cadenhead's Edinburgh

The little shop on Cannongate: Cadenhead’s Edinburgh

A trip to Scotland would not be complete without a whisky stop.

However, my itinerary was far too short during a recent journey for a stopover at one of the country’s many distilleries. One possible alternative: a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience, close to historic Edinburgh Castle and my lodgings. I quickly ruled that out after a consult with various online travel forums. No need for a Disneyesque ride explaining the whisky making process.

Hope remained.  About a half mile from of Edinburgh’s Holyrood Castle is Wm. Cadenhead, a tiny outpost of Scotland’s oldest and largest independent bottler of spirits, which is based in Campbelltown in the Speyside.

Until the mid-20th century there were many small firms that bottled and sold the pure product of Scotland’s distilleries. Cadenhead, among them, has been doing this for about 130 years. A loss of public interest caused the small producers and bottlers to close and today only a small handful of distilleries remain in the ownership of their founding families and even fewer of the bottling companies remain active. Others indy bottlers include Compass BoxGordon & McPhail and the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, the name a few.

The shop at 172 Canongate on the Royal Mile, a touristy stretch of pubs, souvenir shops and store upon store selling cashmere scarves, is a tiny affair. No more than a half dozen people could fit into the small shop. Inside you’ll first see a display of fairy usual whiskeys.  Cadenhead casksTo the right, a chalkboard lists the store’s large cache of rare, aged whiskeys. To the left, just inside the store’s window, are several spigotted wooden casks, each containing a cask-strength expression of one of Scotland’s whisky producing regions—and a cask of rum.  It’s from these barrels that the shop sells bottles — 30cl, 35cl and 70cl — of whiskeys for takeaway.

Scotch whisky display at Cadenhed's

Scotch whisky display at Cadenhed’s

I explained to a gent who asked how he could help that I wanted to find a whisky that I could not find in America. I listed some of my favorites from the Speyside and The Highlands and the flavors I seek in a bottle, i.e. chocolate, spice, candied fruits, etc. He took a tiny plastic cup and poured a taste from a bottle next to a cask labeled Campbelltown. No details except a proof statement: 59.7—that’s 119 percent abv, a drink that must be cut with water. I’m told its been aged 15 years and that it’s a Springbank, which like Cadenhead, is owned by J & A Mitchell & Co. Ltd. Springbank Whisky is lightly peated and twice distilled. It’s smooth and offers up chocolate and dried fruit nuts.  Just right for. I’ll take 35cl.

Can I sample the Highland malt? I’m poured a taste. It’s sweeter than the Campbelltown as well as smooth. All the flavors I’m fond of in whisky are here. I’m told its origin is Glenfarclas and its age is about 10 years. Another bottle to go home.

Not a long shopping expedition, but enough to satisfy my whisky desire.  Next stop, Heathrow Duty Free.




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Glenmorangie adds a 1993 ‘virgin’ American oak single malt, Ealanta

Ealanta PackshotFans of Glenmorangie single malt Scotch whisky will soon have something  to cheer about: a new expression to sample, Glenmorangie Ealanta, part of the distiller‘s Private Edition range.

Scots Gaelic for “skilled and ingenious,” Ealanta is a 19-year-old Glenmorangie that’s been matured exclusively in virgin American white oak casks from the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains.

Glenmorangie, a Highland distiller, is renowned for its research into the effect of wood on whisky maturation and its previous expressions in the Private Edition range have been aged in barrels previously used for sherry and Tuscan wine. All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years

“It’s no secret in our industry that it’s the ‘wood that makes the whisky’ and for many years my team and I have been carrying out detailed research in this area,” Dr. Bill Lumsden, the company’s distilling and whisky creation director, said in a press release. “Ealanta is an experiment dating from the early 1990s. The casks selected from oaks of the Mark Twain National Forest were absolutely top quality and were unusual in that they had not previously held any liquor, such as bourbon.”

Lumsden said the interaction of the whiskey with the “virgin” wood made for intriguing flavors, which he described as a “huge mouth-filling, buttery, creamy, vanilla flavors – somewhat like a crème brulee topped with almond and marzipan.”

According to the distiller’s tasting notes: “Glenmorangie Ealanta has a soft toffee and butterscotch aroma, followed by vanilla and a curious strong hint of stewed fruits with a hallmark Glenmorangie top note of menthol. On the palate, candied orange peel, sugar coated almonds and sweet vanilla are to the fore, wrapped in an unusual nuttiness reminiscent of Brazil nuts in toffee. The finish is long with virgin oak derived spices such as clove, ginger and a hint of aniseed.“

Glenmorangie Ealanta is bottled at 46 percent abv and is not chill-filtered. It will be available in limited quantities, which once depleted won’t be refilled. New York, a major market for the brand, can expect distribution, said a spokeswoman.  The suggested retail price is $119 per 750ml bottle.

Glenmorangie Ealanta is the latest addition to the ongoing limited Private Edition range, comprising, so far, Sonnalta PX (aged in Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks), Finealta (aged in American white oak and Spanish Oloroso Sherry casks) and Artein (aged in rare Tuscan wine casks).


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