On 14th September 2000 the Welsh Whisky Company fired up its unique still for the first time. Flash forward 3.5 years and on St. David’s Day 2004, the first whisky was launched by the company as Penderyn. It featured malt that had been matured in ex-bourbon barrels and then finished in ex-Madeira wine casks. This flagship malt became the foundation for what has now become the (Welsh) Gold range of Penderyn single malt Welsh whiskies. Other cask influences have then been used to create the range: Ex-Laphroaig quarter casks were used to create the Peated expression. [ed: Penderyn do not use peated barley]. Sherry casks were used to create the Sherrywood expression. Port casks were used to create the Portwood expression. Then in 2020, following the well-received limited edition single cask and 50% releases, the Rick Oak expression joined the roster.
As with the majority of the Gold Range cohort, the core spirit has been aged in ex-bourbon barrels from Buffalo Trace and the new component to this release is the use of rejuvenated oak casks. There are no further descriptions available on which types of cask have been rejuvenated, but we know that they have specifically selected to capture the actual oak character and profile that benefits the Welsh Whiskymaker’s own spirit, rather than focussing on the casks’ previous contents.
The base of the Rich Oak has then received the same treatment as the rest of its Gold range siblings. It is a no age statement release – whereby the distillery aim for flavour rather than age – and it has been bottled at 46% ABV.
This might sound daft and obvious, but the first impressions are that this smells like oak. I’m not talking ‘whisky oak’ either, where you can get some vanilla or oak spices, but I mean oak oak. Like the smell of a saw mill kinda oak. When you really get in there, then some milk chocolate notes appear along with hazelnuts, and a rogue sweetness that brings a banana smoothie to mind. On the dessert theme, there’s a Strawberry cheesecake profile to this too – strawberry jam, slightly tart / bitter cheesecake smell, and the signature crumbly biscuit base. The desserts are then punctuated with, you guessed it, rich oak – like actual oak shavings.
Dairy milk fruit and nut bars spring to kind. There’s the chocolate sweetness, the little juicy raisin flavour and a really nutty character. Hazelnut specifically. On the confectionary front there’s a good jammy dodger note (thanks to Alistair from Spirit and Wood for nailing that one) with the strawberry jam flavour and that delicious crumbly biscuit base flavour in there too. On to healthier options on this sweet treat and there’s bananas again, and the oak spices (cracked black pepper) build throughout.
The finish has a really cutting, raw oak flavour. The oak shaving note from the nose, reappearing again. Almost like pencil shavings in your pencil case next to some foam banana sweets.
Well, if I had tasted this blind I would have said that this was definitely a Penderyn. It is really similar to the Madeira cask release but with the barrel flavours really amped up and coming through. I don’t know which came first, the name or the flavour of the whisky itself, but the name “Rich Oak” is on the money. It really is a celebration of the oak casks, and the first whisky that I’ve really noticed that the emphasis is on the oak itself, not the previous contents of a cask.
Now a permanent member of the Penderyn Welsh Gold range, the Rich Oak release is available at a similar price to its siblings (apart from the cheeky extra required for the gorgeous Portwood expression). That makes it readily attainable but… don’t get me wrong, but to be honest, at the end of the day, when all’s said and done… do you know what I mean? No? Well, Gavin and Stacey quote aside, unless you’ve got a real hankering for a woody flavour, it might just be one for the completists, truth be told. It makes for a good variant on the Penderyn signature and you can’t get a more clear message than what the whisky will taste of. For me, I enjoyed those sweet, nutty and chocolatey tastes but the oak profile was actually too rich for this sweet tooth. That may be your bag though. Up to you innit butt?
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.