Welsh gold is extremely rare and as such it is coveted by many. This is no better represented than the fact that the British royal family have used Welsh gold in their wedding bands for nearly 100 years – first used by the Queen Mother in her wedding band in 1903. This is a fact that is also close to my heart, as my own wedding band features a small percentage of Welsh gold, thanks to the good people at Clogau. It makes sense therefore that the Welsh Whisky Company, who have been producing liquid gold at Penderyn since 2000, have named their core range after it.
The main line-up of Penderyn whiskies each bears the mark “AC” on their bottles, standing for “Aur Cymru” or “Welsh Gold”. The Portwood release represents the fourth instalment in the Gold range. When I first starting tasting Penderyn the port finish used to be a limited edition, but now, following its success, forms part of the starting line-up.
As with the rest of the Gold range, the Portwood comes with no age statement – the distillery purely placing their focus on flavour – and the Welsh distillate has been matured in ex-bourbon barrels from Buffalo Trace. As the name suggests, this version has then been finished in ex-port casks. The whisky has then been bottled without chill-filtration, without colouring (therefore keeping its naturally pink hue from the port casks) and has been captured at 46% ABV.
Wow. This is a real dessert fest of flavours. There’s jam tarts, fairy cakes, Eton mess, jam doughnuts, fig rolls, and even a bowl of red grapes on the side for the more health conscious. There’s a good little bit of baking spice to it, and brown sugary sweetness that brings a blackberry crumble to mind. (Tip of the cap to @VJOsgood for that note there).
All the fruits and unhealthy options are there again. I’d say especially the jam doughnut flavour. Adding to the jam note I’d also say that there’s a plum jam on toast little pocket of flavour in there too. Those fruits keep on coming with a sloe or damson flavour but without the cloying texture that a slow or damson gin would have. On that note it manages to remain quite a light bodied whisky actually despite the sweetness. There’s a bit of a rogue tobacco / tobacco leaf flavour and warmth that complements a gentle oak peppery spice.
The sweet red fruit and berry flavours have all disappeared in a flash, with a cracked black peppery oak spice barging its way through as the lasting dominant note. And it does last for some time. Once the spirit and oak spices have gone away though there seems to be a final lingering sweet and herbal / aniseed note – just like Black Jack sweets (nod to Alistair of @SpiritAndWood for pinpointing that note too).
It’s good! Real good! It brings a lot of fruity flavours and sweet freshness that I look for in a whisky and would especially hope from the port influence. For me, that’s a much needed fruity dimension that complements and builds on the strong oak flavours that I find with most Penderyn whiskies.
With that, it is not just my favourite of the Gold range, but my favourite Penderyn whisky to date. That’s typical really, as it is the most expensive of the range, coming in at ca. £62 RRP as compared to the £48 or so for the rest of the range, when at full price.
I tasted this whisky as part of a tweet tasting event on Twitter. It was a St. David’s Day celebration of Welsh whisky from Penderyn during which we sampled all five expressions of the Gold range and, on the night, it was nearly a clean sweep across all tweet tasters that this was the favourite of the five.
One noticeable difference between this and the others in the Gold range is that this Portwood expression seems to be the only entrant in the series that doesn’t have a banana foam sweet flavour standing out from the whisky. That is a flavour which I have come to recognise as being part of the Penderyn spirit’s signature profile. That said, I think that the Buffalo Trace casks which are used on the base malt for all these whimsies, are still quite noticeable in this expression. I’ve said in the past that, as a Welshman, it has been pained me that I’ve not always enjoyed a Penderyn. Patriotism would compel me to blindly love them all, but I’m probably too honest for my own good, and I’ve found some of them pretty tough going. BUT I also think that they have been finding their feet too. Each Penderyn seems to have a distinctive oak note that really catches the back of my throat and chest, and when I first tried a Penderyn Madeira, that note really put me off. It might just be that my tastebuds having altered and adapted over the years but that really stark and harsh characteristic that I once found quite off-putting seems to have subsided with time, and maybe longer maturations and experience have resulted in that element having been phased out.
Either way you swing it, this still tastes like a Penderyn whisky. What that ex-port cask maturation seems to have brought with it is a real bounty of fruity flavours which I think have rounded out and maximised the potential in the Penderyn base spirit. All in all, this Portwood expression gets the gold star from me for the Gold range. Un chwisgi Cymreig hyfryd.
Sample disclosure: The sample in the photos was received as part of a promotional tweet tasting event – organised by Steve Rush of @The WhiskyWire with Penderyn to celebrate the Welsh whiskies on St. David’s Day. I also supplemented the 2cl sample with a 3cl sample from a Drinks By The Dram set through Master of Malt, to really get a good measure and explore the whisky. These notes are intended however as an honest, fair and independent review of the whisky itself, and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.