Penderyn Dragon Range – Celt 41%

I really enjoy exploring expressions from a single distillery – it enables one to discern underlying commonalities whilst at the same time the variations that come from different elements – be it maturing in different casks, periods of time or use of peat.

Even better is when you have a trio packaged conveniently in 200ml bottles – perfect to share with a few folks without needing to host a party!

Celt was the last in our trio – the only one that used peat. What did we think?

Penderyn Celt 41%

  • Nose – Is that dried apricot? Then shifted quickly into briney sea salt (reminiscent of Talisker?), then apples and vanilla, with the smokiness also joining, sweet caramel, smoked bacon, sponge cake… delightfully evolving and shifting between different elements
  • Palate – Mmmmm…. buttery, smokey, well rounded whisky with that oily quality that properly coats the palate, nice warm fire
  • Finish – From sweet to bitter, lingering to leave a subtle smokey tail

This one caught our attention – most enjoyable and held up very well even after some time. For some – it was the clear favourite! Though the ex-bourbon matured Myth without peat was also a winner.

As we sat back and considered all three in the Dragon Range – Legend, Myth and this Celt – we recognized some common threads…. each had apples and vanilla on the nose and a nice bitterness on the palate. Interesting!

And what do the folks at Penderyn have to say?

Celt is a single malt whisky finished in ex-peated quarter casks, bottled at 41% abv. (43% in the USA). This whisky has a Kosher certificate.

  • Nose: Mild aromas of peat smoke, early morning at the rocky seaside and warm marmalade on toast all compete for our attention.
  • Palate: It begins with great sweetness before the smoky, slightly medicinal flavours descend.
  • Finish: Slight bitterness follows that leaves a long and lingering freshness in the mouth.

I bought this tasting set of 200 ml bottles for EUR 37. Then hand delivered samples to my tasting companions in Sweden and France.

Here is the convoluted tale of how we came to taste the Penderyn Dragon range:

What about our earlier Penderyn explorations?

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Penderyn Dragon Range – Legend 41%

While not called Legend, a few of us have tried Penderyn’s Madeira finish over the years. It proved to us that this Welsh distillery has got the balance right – affordable, enjoyable with just enough interesting going on to make us happy to repeat! My most recent revisit was at the close of 2020 with my Advent Calendar malty marathon.

The Madeira finish is a core Penderyn expression and a bottle sitting in Mumbai was intended to anchor an exploration with our desi tasting companions. Which we will get to… one of these months or years…

However in the interim, “Legend” – also a Madeira finish – beckoned as part of the Dragon range tasting set.

Penderyn Legend 41%

  • Nose – Apples, touch of citrus, subtle, vanilla cream, as it warmed up a hint of rum raisins and cream
  • Palate – Some spice, a bit of woodiness, later we wondered – was that a touch of grapefruit? It also had that bitter quality
  • Finish – Spicy at the back – black peppers then ginger

After the delightful Myth which had fruit in abundance in the nose and considerable substance on the palate with a satisfying finish, the Legend came across as… dare I say it… a wee bit flat?

We speculated perhaps we should have started with the Legend – with fresh palates, perhaps this would have made a better ‘appetizer’ before moving on to the bourbon. A bit counter-intuitive but may have resulted in a more harmonious progression.

We set it aside and carried on with the Peaty Celt… then returned to revisit. No major transformation however did detect some red currents, some spice and bitterness.

And what do the folks at Penderyn have to say?

Legend is a Madeira-finish single malt whisky, bottled at 41% abv. (43% in the USA)

  • Nose: Aromas of fresh apples and citrus fruits intermingle with cream fudge and sultana raisins to create a complex yet fresh, clean and well-balanced whisky.
  • Palate: Incredibly smooth and both fresh and rich dried fruits abound. Delicate and sweet on the palate with just a hint of bitterness to remain refreshing.
  • Finish: A long aftertaste of Madeira cake and sultanas.

Would we agree? Not entirely… Could it be my opening and transferring into wee sample bottles a month+ before and distributing dampened the character? Some whiskies are particularly susceptible to losing their “oomph!” with oxidation. Or could it be the recipe for Legend differs from their core Madeira finish?

Either way, we did not find the complexity or the rich dried fruits. Pity…

Here is the convoluted tale of how we came to taste the Penderyn Dragon range:

What about our earlier Penderyn explorations?

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Penderyn Dragon Range – Myth 41%

With no India trips in sight, I decided to go ahead and bring samples from the Penderyn Dragon range trio with me to France and Sweden… which we then decided to taste virtually late July.

Given the Dragon Range trio had Bourbon, Madeira and Peat, we decided to start with the ex-Bourbon finish. If we were to do it again, would start with the Madeira – once we’ve shared our experience with both you will understand why!

So… on to Myth matured in an ex-bourbon cask…

Penderyn Myth 41%

  • Nose – Mmmm…. apples, pears, a bit spicy, some wafts of tropical fruits, fresh grapes, toffee… increasingly sweet with vanilla, fresh baked brioche
  • Palate – More substance than expected, full of flavour with a nice bitterness too… the 2nd sip had a hint less vanilla yet the sweetness remains
  • Finish – Spice that lasts, a bit of bitter chillipepper that mellows into sweet spice

From the start this was a happy, lively summery dram, engaging on the nose, lovely on the palate… an easy enjoyable sipper. We set it aside to try the other. When we returned for a revisit – it remained just as delightful – bright, lively and fresh.

And what do the folks at Penderyn have to say?

Myth is a single malt whisky finished in a range of specially selected ex-bourbon and rejuvenated oak casks., bottled at 41% abv. (43% in the USA). This whisky has a Kosher certificate.

  • Nose: Fresh and lively, Myth has mixed citrus fruits mingling with apple, pear drops and the merest hint of tropical fruits.
  • Palate: Sweetness dominates then moves over to allow some refreshing bitterness to emerge while the mixed fruits continue to dominate the flavour.
  • Finish: Gradually all the flavours ebb away to leave memories of a lively and light style of whisky that is easy to drink.

Would we agree? Absolutely!

Welcome to the convoluted tale of how we came to taste the Penderyn Dragon range:

What about our earlier Penderyn explorations?

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Penderyn Dragon Range – Legend, Myth, Celt

There we were on a virtual tasting bringing together friends in London, Paris, South of France, Germany, Mumbai… barely finished what was in front of us and already planning the next. Sounds simple enough, right?

Except our merry malty friends are now scattered around the globe with narrow options to coordinate combined virtual sessions between Brexit and Mumbai customs.

However with extremely limited travel and also the limitations of what can be personally brought across borders, purchasing 700ml seems silly! Enter an idea to either build on what was already in India or buy the same set of 200 ml bottles…

That’s what led to our plan for me to purchase a tasting set of 200 ml bottles online in Germany to send samples to Paris. I immediately thought of Penderyn as I knew the Madeira and other was safely tucked away in Mumbai… A quick online search and I found this Penderyn trio – what they call their Penderyn Dragon range:

As this wasn’t quite what was already in Mumbai, our London based malt man decided to pick up the same 200ml trio with every expectation of sharing in his April/May 2021 trip to India.

All excited, I proposed a virtual session with the folks at Penderyn! I contacted the delightful and amusing Aista Jukneviciute, Penderyn’s Blender whom I met at The Village spirits festival in February 2020. It was a resounding yes and the excitement built even further!

For those who aren’t familiar, Welsh distillery Penderyn was founded in 2004 and is headed by Laura Davies, Distillery Manager, who trained with Dr. Jim Swan. We’ve sampled only a few Penderyn over the years but have overall enjoyed our experiences, appreciating how it remains both more affordable and accessible in style.

And then conditions in India worsened with trips canceled with India travels suspended for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, our European situation has improved, so I thought why not open this trio and bring to Paris along with other samples for our Euro ladies? If not today, sometime we  can enjoy a session… with (or without) our desi compatriots.

This followed by a trip to Sweden to meet up with another Whisky Lady… also with Penderyn samples in tow… and a plot to do a virtual session between Laholm, Paris and Nurnberg was hatched!

Even more remarkably… it happened late July! Not with the lovely folks at Penderyn as we’d prefer to ‘reserve’ that privilege to hold together with folks in India… but it still happened!

Convoluted and yet creative… just the kind of connects that weave together the fabulous whisky fabric!

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Vita Dulcis 17 – Wales Penderyn Madeira 46%

Ah… Penderyn from Wales… what fun to have a chance to revisit! This Madeira finish is part of their core range – now labelled as “gold“. It has a happy place in our whisky tasting history and one that is a regular ‘stand by’ for sociable evenings.

Wales – Penderyn Madeira Finish 46%

  • Nose – Delicious! Vanilla creme, caramel, resin and raisins, herbal – particularly basil yet hints of mint too, chased by rich toffee
  • Palate – Also yum! Fruit – think pineapple, marmalade on toast with custard, sprinkled with cinnamon, cloves and other sweet spices
  • Finish – Spices, nice ginger tail

As I sipped it, I couldn’t help but smile. Both as I enjoyed the whisky and as I had a flashback to most enjoyable exchanges with Aista Jukneviciute at the Nurnberg “The Village” whisky festival (end Feb/early Mar 2020) where she launched a special expression just for Germany!

Penderyn is a predominantly female distillation team, led by Laura Davies, Distillery Manager, Penderyn Distillery (Wales) – a refreshing contrast to a mostly male industry.

What do they have to say about their Madeira?

This whisky is the original Penderyn ‘house style’, aged in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in ex-Madeira wine casks to bring out its full gold character. It is bottled at 46% abv.

TASTING NOTES
  • Nose: A classic freshness with aromas of cream toffee, rich fruit and raisins.
  • Palate: Crisp and finely rounded, with the sweetness to balance an appetising dryness.
  • Finish: Notes of tropical fruit, raisins and vanilla persist.
  • Balance: Oaky vanilla tones/dry sweetness

As for my other encounters with the distillery? They are quite a few years earlier:

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Madeira Finish – Penderyn Madeira 46% a favourite!

Our Whisky Ladies explored an evening of finishes… moving from Speyside to Wales to explore the affect of Madeira on whisky… Here is what we discovered…

Penderyn Madeira 46%

  • Nose – When freshly opened had a bright sharpness, metallic, then shifted into a perfume – rose and other flowers, then fruity, then the wood came to the fore followed by a nice nuttiness of chestnuts, shifting further to a chewy gummy bear, from candy to creme brûlée
  • Palate – Fruits and spice, some tannins, with a lovely slow progression, an nice understated but interesting character, some dates, toffee and cream
  • Finish – Cotton candy, then toffee and a hint of vanilla

We really enjoyed this one! One of the few times it was absolutely a unanimous “thumbs up!” We found it very drinkable, feminine, with enough going on to keep us engaged.

I set it aside and revisited after sampling all unusual finishes of the evening. What did I find? An initial whiff of sweet varnish, then a lovely candied toffee, vanilla… simply yum!

This is another you can find at some duty free or, if you picked it up from the Whisky Exchange in the UK, it would set you back approx £40.

Penderyn Official Website

And what do the folks at Pendryn have to say?

This whisky is the original Penderyn ‘house style’, aged in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in ex-Madeira wine casks to bring out its full gold character. It is bottled at 46% abv.

Official Tasting Notes:
  • Nose: A classic freshness with aromas of cream toffee, rich fruit and raisins.
  • Palate: Crisp and finely rounded, with the sweetness to balance an appetising dryness.
  • Finish: Notes of tropical fruit, raisins and vanilla persist.
  • Balance: Oaky vanilla tones/dry sweetness

What other finishes did the Whisky Ladies explore that eve?

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Bar Night – Penderyn, Lagavulin and Aberlour

In lieu of our original planned evening, the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents shifted gears to enjoy their version of a ‘Bar Night’ with a Gurkha cigar.

There was some debate over the tasting order and, in retrospect, it could have had the peatier Lagavulin last, swapping place with the Aberlour. However it all worked out in the end!

Penderyn Madeira 46% 

  • Nose – Initially distinctly varnish, then sweet, banana, citrus sweet oranges, resin, pine, vanilla, apricot, bannoffee pie, then odd bitter, pine needles
  • Palate – Tingle at the front, sweet, acidity at the back, banana sweet
  • Finish – Pleasant yet nothing substantial

The two of us who sampled it earlier, were reminded of why we found it an interesting conversation whisky. While not for everyone, there is a distinctive quality to it that cannot be ignored.

It also turned out to be the dram choice of the night for most gents, as it complimented our Gurkhas rather well.

Lagavulin 16 year 43%

  • Nose – Clear peat, yet rounded not harsh, wet rag, berry sweetness, black berries, shifting into a briny ocean spray, leather
  • Palate – Spice sweet, peat, ash, lovely balance
  • Finish – Lovely sweet

In short, a beautiful whisky! What a treat to return to a familiar friend…Those who once upon a time treated the Lagavulin 16 as a bar ‘staple’ were reminded of why that is the case – its ability to have balanced peat and sweet.

And how did the Lagavulin fare with the cigar? A contrasting pairing, with the whisky the predominant note.

Aberlour 12 year 40%

  • Nose – Prunes, sherry, berry
  • Palate – Candy sweet, cinnamon
  • Finish – Light spice finish

The whisky was oddly disappointing as it was a pale comparison with the more familiar A’bunadh.

And yet it was an absolutely perfectly balanced pairing with the cigar.

penderyn-lagavulin-aberlour

Though it wasn’t our original plan, the substitute ‘bar night’ theme worked rather well.

What would you chose as a trio of more accessible drams for a sociable evening?

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Bombay Bar Nights…

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming on quality whiskies, somewhat serious reviews and general pontificating to introduce you to a fine Bombay tradition – the BAR NIGHT.

Now, what you may say makes ‘Bar Night’ here any different than another part of the world?

I’m so delighted you asked!

You see we have a fine colonial tradition of gym khanna in these parts… bastions for a certain sort that once upon a time some were frequented by those mad dogs and Englishmen.

Since then, membership at such clubs may still remain a privilege and yet from time to time a few of us ‘riff raff’ get invited into these rarified domains.

Enter ‘Bar Night’ where more sociable evenings happen opening the doors to members guests on a wider scale.

In our impromptu BMC version, we opened up the ‘Bar Night’ liquor cabinet of our host.

bar-boozeLet’s admit it folks – most of us with a prediliction for quality drams have our ‘jaanta’ (masses) cabinet with an assortment of ‘bar booze’ and then our special ‘reserved’ section hidden away from prying eyes.

Helps avoid those gasps of dismay where a crazy expensive rare single malt is shocked with a bucket of ice or horror of all horrors drowned in soda or some other fizzy substance that has no business going near a prime whisky!

Don’t worry, I haven’t gone all crazy snobby, just some whiskies DO deserve a different sort of treatment.

Here is what we sampled:

penderyn-lagavulin-aberlour

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Penderyn Madeira 46%

It has been several years since I sampled a Penderyn… We simply don’t often come across a Welsh whisky in Mumbai, India.

After deciding on a trio of miniatures – Glencadam 15Auchroisk and Glen Keith – my sampling companion pulled out an open bottle of Penderyn Madeira. Seemed a perfect chance to revisit!

penderyn-madeira

Penderyn Madeira NAS 46%

What did we find?

  • Nose – Initially lots of wood varnish then tropical fruits – particularly bananas almost like the synthetic banana flavouring, demerara sugar, quite a sharp quality too
  • Palate – First quaff was a bit peculiar, old musty wooden cupboard, medicinal, forced wine… but then it began to mellow and shift into custard, granny candies,
  • Finish – First impression was quite tart then sweetened – cranberries shifting into vanilla flavouring

This was one of those whiskies that took some time to get used to… Our 1st  thought was “you can have a conversation about this whisky” but that didn’t necessarily translate into enthusiastic appreciation.

Yet at some point that shifted – about the time the nose took on a distinctive “banana cream pie” we found ourselves rather enjoying it. Funny how that happens sometimes…

For kicks, I pulled out my tasting notes from more than four years ago… sampled as a trio of Penderyn Sherrywood, Madeira, Peated

  • Nose – Varnish, bit of caramel, lots of flowery perfumed notes and quite sweet, fruity with banana and melons?
  • Palate – Some body, a little bolder, woody, more character than the Sherrywood
  • Finish – Short, bit of fruit yet also bitter

As for the Pendryn official tasting notes? Here is what they have to say:

  • Nose – It has a classic freshness with aromas of cream toffee, rich fruit and raisins.
  • Palate… is crisp and finely rounded, with the sweetness to balance an appetising dryness.
  • Finish – Notes of tropical fruit, raisins and vanilla persist in the finish.

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Whisky Archives – Penderyn Sherrywood, Madeira and Peated with Oban 14

As both our formal March and April monthly tasting sessions were cancelled, I started to poke around my ‘Whisky Archives’.

I stumbled upon old scribbled notes from when we tried three expressions from the same distillery (Penderyn) and closed with an Oban. I believe it was a 2011 tasting and there were no photos either so have relied on alternate sources (duly acknowledged). I found the tasting notes frustratingly ‘sparse’ – clearly drafted before I took the mantle of ‘chronicler’ seriously!

Welcome to Wales Wysgi

Little did we know we were about to be introduced to ‘wysgi’ from Wales!

Penderyn is found in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons. It has the distinction of being the only whisky distillery in Wales, launched in 2000 after the Welsh whisky industry was shut down in 1894. Penderyn whiskies are typically first aged in bourbon barrels – predominantly Buffalo Trace – and then finished in Madeira or other casks.

As always, our tasting was ‘blind’ followed by the reveal…

Penderyn Sherrywood NAS 46%

  • Nose – Jackfruit, perfumy, sweetness and light, honey, after a bit a hint of zesty lemon
  • Palate – Starts well, lovely on the palate however not much body, lighter than we were in the mood for…
  • Finish – Slightly spicy then softens
  • Thoughts – Ladylike and almost… well… bland…
Penderyn Sherrywood (XX)

Penderyn Sherrywood (Welsh-Whisky.co.uk)

Penderyn Madeira NAS 46%

  • Nose – Varnish, bit of caramel, lots of flowery perfumed notes and quite sweet, fruity with banana and melons?
  • Palate – Some body, a little bolder, woody, more character than the Sherrywood
  • Finish – Short, bit of fruit yet also bitter
Penderyn Madeira (xx)

Penderyn Madeira (Welsh-Whisky.co.uk)

Penderyn Peated NAS 46%

  • Nose – Smelly socks, vanilla, sweet, hint of leather, citrus – quite a contrast to the earlier expressions
  • Palate – Charcoal, wood oil, again the citrusy element, peppercorns
  • Finish – Peppery but doesn’t stick around long or morph into anything further
  • Thoughts – Had the stamp of a bourbon cask with peat? Interesting but not something that really grabs you.
Penderyn Peated (http://www.welsh-whisky.co.uk/Our-Whiskies/Penderyn-Peated.aspx)

Penderyn Peated (Welsh-Whisky.co.uk)

We then shifted gear to a whisky perhaps double the age (or more!?) of the Penderyn expressions to the highlands with Oban.

Oban 14 year 43%

  • Nose – Spicy, fruity, orange peel
  • Palate – Spice, nutmeg
  • Finish – Lingers… finally!

Quote: “Early evening drink”

The last time I had the Oban 14 year I did not prepare any tasting notes. It was in Singapore late 2014 when I enjoyed an absolutely delightful evening at home with a gal pal. Nothing could have been a better dram for our mood, mad conversations, laughter and sheer joy in catching up after ages. It was indeed an early evening which grew into a later evening and the Oban kept us company all along.

Oban 14 year (Whisky Exchange)

Oban 14 year (Whisky Exchange)

Overall impression

When I look back on the scribbles, they seem a bit uncharitable. At the time, we were spoilt with a series of beautifully aged and balanced Scottish whiskies and were just starting to poke our nose and palate around newer entrants.

Contradictorily while our ability to discern nuances has increased, as a group we have also grown more adventuresome and open to the range of whisky styles. We no longer expect a whisky should be robust and instead delight in the more exquisite delicate notes too just as much as we embrace the peaty or sherry monsters out there.

We can now also put better into perspective more youthful whiskies and go through a re-calibration of ‘young, shows promise’ vs ‘erhm just doesn’t cut it for us’.

I’m also a massive fan of giving a whisky multiple tasting opportunities. Once is simply not enough. It would be interesting to revisit the Penderyn expressions to see what we would discover today. And I know the Oban is a favourite of a few.

If you would like to check out some ‘real’ tasting notes for the Penderyn expressions, check out:

As for the Oban:

Slainthe!

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