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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