I have referred a couple of times to a few online tastings that I have participated in. The one in this instance is courtesy of The Spirits Embassy, who launched their 3-month subscription in January. Essentially, you receive small samples of whisky in the mail and, on a specific date, meet via Zoom for a selected tasting. If you miss a live session, you can request a recording which you can watch later at your own convenience. This sounds like fun, and I definitely enjoyed it, albeit I think there are a few improvements to be made, which I am sure are coming. Meanwhile, I missed the tasting featuring the Penderyn distillery, and instead of six drams in one sitting, I’m comparing here only two. So let’s see what this one brings! But first, we need music! Now playing: Tim Linghaus – Provenance.
Penderyn is a Welsh whisky, distilled once in their unique Faraday copper still, with an added purifier and rectification column. Since it’s not a Scotch, Penderyn can choose to be unique and experiment with processes and even casks – for example, it doesn’t have to use oak and can use chestnut, albeit that’s a bit experimental, and all the whiskies tasted here have rested in ex-bourbon casks (obtained from Buffalo Trace). The Madeira Finish is their staple offering from the Gold Range, selling since 2004. There is no age statement on the bottle, but it is indeed pretty young – it has matured for about 3-4 years in that ex-bourbon cask and then finished for about 6-8 months in the ex-Madeira barrels. Just like sherry, port, and marsala, Madeira is a fortified wine (with sugar cane spirit), but which is then deliberately heated as part of its maturation process. This whisky is light and fruity on the nose, a bit citrusy, like lemon vapours from hot tea. Initially, it’s a little harsh at its 48% ABV, but it gets a lot better with water, as its rougher edges are smoothed out and softened. A little later (after going to the Rich Oak and back), I sense really ripe bananas on the nose, and then, of course, this then affects the taste. Finally, there is no colouring or chill-filtration in the process. So it’s a pretty good dram at £35 a bottle, which you can find everywhere in Wales.
Penderyn Rich Oak is a little darker, a little softer, and about a little more in price (£45). It’s still un-chill filtered with no added colouring, and that’s already a welcome sign. There is no age statement, and it’s safe to assume that it’s as young as the Madeira Finish. The nose and flavour are almost flat and satin. I really mean that in a good way. It’s not that sweet at all and carries a lovely matte taste, covering the tongue like an early morning fog before a warmer day. This whisky started in ex-bourbon barrels as well, but then it was finished in red wine STR casks. STR stands for “Shaved, Toasted and Re-Charred”, which is a process of essentially refurbishing the wine casks that may still have plenty of life in them. This expression was initially created by Jim Swan, who was a master blender for the distillery from 2002 until 2017, when he sadly passed away. Swan was known for his practice of using STR casks, which he developed for Kilchoman, Kavalan, and many other distilleries. So there is no red wine flavour left here, as it has essentially been all stripped off. And thus, it’s not as fruity as the Madeira Finish, with just a bit of caramel and a hint of wood smoke (not to be confused with peat) which it has borrowed from that heavily charred French oak. And yes, there is that woodsy finish, with a tail of a charming oak. It’s absolutely an easy drinker, and I don’t add any water at all. It’s not a thinker’s dram. It’s just a drinker’s dram.
So there you have it, folks, two of its finest from the tasting. And I’ve got four more drams to go! I’ll leave these for a taste for later, but for now, I’ll end here and proclaim that Rich Oak wins this round, enough for me to seek it out for my shelves.