The Penderyn distillery is one of the tourist attractions in the Brecon Beacons. It is in the village of Penderyn near Hirwaun and Aberdare on the A4095. There is a visitors’ centre and tours of the distillery which are fascinating. Of course, there is also a shop which sells Penderyn’s single malt whiskys (wysgi in Welsh) as well as their gin, vodka and a Welsh cream liqueur called Merlyn, no doubt named after the Welsh wizard from Arthurian legend and the Mabinogion. Merlyn comes in an opaque black bottle which is very collectable. There is another connection to these legends in the Brecon Beacons, namely Arthur’s Seat, although there are several of these rock formations scattered throughout the UK.
The exterior of the distillery is as black as the Merlyn bottle, and this contrasts well with the white interior. The building is minimalist and attractive, and the tour guides are professionals who know their stuff. The tour costs £6 for an adult, and is worth it, as you get two samples of the whiskys and are guided through the distilling process. The differences between Welsh, Scotch and Irish and US whisky-making are also explained. This is definitely an adult-centred experience, although children accompanied by their families can go on a tour. Senior citizens pay £4 for the tour. You really do need to book a tour in advance though, to avoid disappointment. Their telephone number is 01685 810650.
The staff at the Penderyn distillery say that their secret is the water which comes from an aquifer deep beneath the distillery in carboniferous limestone. People at every distillery I have visited say that their water is the special ingredient, and there may be some truth in it I suppose.
Apart from tours of the distillery there are Master Classes which last for two and a half hours, in which you are taught to savour the whisky and understand the ‘nose.’ These classes are for adults only.
The Penderyn brand of whisky was launched in 2004 by HRH Prince Charles in St David’s Hall Cardiff. Since then it has gone from strength to strength with the purpose-built visitor’s centre opening in 2008. In the previous year it launched its Brecon Gin, Brecon Vodka and Merlyn Cream Liqueur brands.
You might be surprised to learn that the distillery produces just one cask of malted barley spirit a day. It will come as no surprise that the whisky is premium quality and so expensive, ranging from £30 upwards for the single malts. The ‘peated’ one is £41.99, but still cheaper than its Scottish equivalent. As you might expect, the other spirits are cheaper. You can get three small bottles of single malt for £13.99, tasters to give to whisky-drinking friends. There are other souvenirs in the shop which you can buy to remind you of your visit too, such as a book about whisky and Cariad (dear or darling) chocolate.
The Penderyn distillery also produces limited edition single malts which commemorate important people or events in Wales. For example the first of these “Red Flag” was to commemorate the Merthyr Rising of 1831, after which Dic Penderyn was executed after a trial, conducted in English – the man was a Welsh speaker and did not understand what was being said – in which he stood accused of stabbing an English soldier in the leg. Another man claimed that he had committed the crime after Dic Penderyn (Richard Lewis) had been hanged. It was also the first time that the red flag was raised as a symbol of social revolt.
The distillery is at the beginning of the Brecon Beacons national park, and this is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its “geological heritage of great significance.” The Beacons are beautiful and a great place for a relaxing holiday. There are all types of accommodation to be had from camping and caravans to luxury hotels, so if you are thinking of having a break, why not consider one in the Brecon Beacons? While there you can also visit the Penderyn distillery.