Pendryn Distillery with Stephen Davies,Distillery CEO

‘From Wales to the world…’

The Home of Welsh Whisky.

Wales’ first whisky distillery in over 100 years, and pioneers in World Whisky.

Can you tell us about the history and background of Penderyn Distilleries, including when it was founded and what sets it apart from other distilleries?

Distilling in Wales was a lost art, but in the late 1990s, in a Hirwaun pub in the Welsh valleys, a group of friends chatted about establishing the first whisky distillery in Wales in over a century. They dreamt of creating a whisky as pure and precious as Welsh gold, represented today by Penderyn’s ‘gold seam’.

A unique copper single-pot still designed by Dr David Faraday, a relative of the great 19th-century scientist Michael Faraday, was installed in 2000, which produces a spirit at an industry high draw of 92%, meaning Penderyn’s whiskies are light, fruity, elegant and flavoursome. We now have two of these stills, as well as Faraday Stills in Llandudno (opened May 2021) and Swansea (opened Jun 2023) distilleries.

The business seemed a curiosity – a Welsh whisky? – but when the Scottish whisky expert, Dr Jim Swan, became our Master Distiller, things got serious. Dr Swan got involved because he said the still created a world class spirit. He said we should finish in Madeira casks, so this became our house style. On St David’s Day 2004, Penderyn whisky was launched.

What is the story behind the name and branding of your distillery, and how does it connect to your overall identity and vision of your distillery?

The village of Penderyn in the Brecon Beacons National Park, which was a couple of miles from Hirwaun, was chosen as it had a site available and a natural supply of spring water. Penderyn means ‘bird’s head’ in Welsh, and so it became the name of the distillery. We have Gold Range and Dragon Range bottles. We use the ‘gold seam’, as medieval Welsh princes used Welsh gold, and of course we use the Welsh dragon.

Can you share any interesting anecdotes or stories related to the history, production, or characters associated with your distillery or brand?

When we went to the Scottish Highland games, north of San Francisco, we were in a large barn with around 30 Scottish distilleries. We were the last table and after drinking heavily peated Scotch, the visitors loved our lighter whiskies, and we were the top seller on the day!

Our whisky creator Dr Jim Swan is a much-celebrated figure in the industry.  He started working with us in 2002 and continued as our whisky creator and non-executive director until his passing in 2017.  Following on from his successful work at Penderyn he then proceeded to work with several other distilleries including Kavalan in Taiwan, Kilchoman in Scotland. and Cotswolds and Spirit of Yorkshire in England.

How do you approach cask selection and maturation for your whisky, and what impact do different types of casks have on the final product?

We have three women distillers (plus a male distiller), and Aista Phillips is our Master Blender. She has a remarkable nose and when one of our US importing team visited, he said watching Aista work was like, ‘watching Jimi Hendrix play guitar.’ Our house-style is a Madeira finish, but we also use a wide variety of casks for finishing – port, sherry, ex-peated, STR (scraped, toasted and re-charred), as well as rum, Muscatel and other casks. Our whiskies generally mature in around 6-8 years, as the high-quality spirit works exceptionally well with the wood. We use Buffalo Trace casks, and Aista has detailed notes on around 15,000 casks, but we also mature in other casks, such as port and sherry.

Do you have any sustainability or environmental practices in place at your distillery, such as water conservation, waste reduction, or renewable energy initiatives?

We are committed to a sustainability agenda with a range of initiatives at our distilleries.  We have sustainable natural water sources that contribute to the making of our product including a natural spring in the Brecon Beacons and at the Great Orme in Llandudno as well as from the Welsh National Show Caves. We recycle as much heat as possible via heat exchangers through the process. We also recycle the non-alcoholic waste streams back to agriculture, as far as possible.  We have a programme of reducing packaging / secondary packaging as far as possible with lighter glass bottles and reduced use of gift boxes where we can.  Employees are also encouraged to drive electric cars as part of a company-wide scheme

We have solar panels on employed on most of our buildings and we are exploring other renewable energy sources for distillery production going forward

What trends do you see affecting the spirits industry at the moment, and how is your distillery positioned to take advantage of them?

The Penderyn brand has been established over the last 20 years and has gained a great reputation for consistency and quality.  We have a good presence in the UK and Europe and we see a lot of growth coming from the North America and Asia over the next three to five years. With three distilleries now fully open to the general public we also see a great opportunity to growth and strengthen our brand story through UK and international tourism.

Is there anything along the way that you wish you knew sooner? What would you tell your future self?

We’ve enjoyed good quality brand and business growth over the years but we are always wishing we started our expansion projects a couple of years earlier that we have actually done – but this is part of the problem of working with a long-matured product like single malt whisky.

Finally, can you discuss any exciting projects or releases that you have planned for the near future?

People around the world know about the Scots and Irish, but we call Wales, ‘the secret Celtic nation’. This means that whenever we travel, we have to tell the story of Wales, to give Penderyn a root. For example, it’s not, ‘an island off Scotland’ and some New Yorker said it was! We have many young people, and people who don’t naturally like whisky, who become converts to our lighter, elegant whiskies. We export around 20% of our whiskies, and so there is a major market to expand.

To find out more about Penderyn Distillery and their range of Welsh whisky please visit here.

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