From Celtic history to the glass – Penderyn Rhiannon

I like Wales. It’s a pretty wonderful place, lovely green hills, bloody fantastic people, and some great drinks. I’ve been kicking about in Cardiff for a week or so now (absolutely loving the amount of gaming bars here by the way), and for the most part I’ve made a little drinking nest in Bub’s.

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If you’ve not been to Bub’s you should know that its Cardiff’s premiere, also only, whisky bar. Run by the wonderful Chris and Bunny, the bar has about 14 taps, shows the Six Nations this time of year, serves great food but most importantly it holds just under a hundred whiskies.

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Now while some of you will turn a nose up at that and scoff, recall that we’re not in London or Edinburgh here. Furthermore, Bub’s have not been gathering everything they can from Tesco or the local off license and stuffing the shelves full, each bottle has been handpicked as they, along with the customer continue their whisky journey. Their World Whisky section is of particular interest to me, and I’m loving the choice on offer. Recently though they had a delivery of something quite exciting, the entire Penderyn range.

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I think Penderyn is great. I think you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who would seriously say its all awful, considering the variety they have in their range, and they really do come out with some fantastic stuff. I’ve previously looked at their standard Madeira cask, though I thought I’d take some time to look at the Rhiannon, from the Icons of Wales Series. What’s that? Icons of Wales? I thought you’d never ask.

The Icons of Wales series aims to celebrate peoples, events and milestones through Welsh history. Starting back in 2012 with the Red Flag, the series will comprise of 50 different bottlings celebrating Welsh heritage. It looks as though Penderyn are playing the long game with this series as the Rhiannon is only number seven and was released in 2019, so one a year until 2062 maybe? I’d love to do a tasting with them all at the end.

So, who was Rhiannon, and what goes into the bottle? The name Rhiannon, when concerned with Welsh history, makes its way back to the Mabinogion, the earliest collection of prose stories of literature in Britain. Complied from earlier oral tradition in the 12th and 13th centuries, it is generally thought that the stories are of the pre-Christian Celtic mythology. Rhiannon herself comes from these tales and is a major figure, appearing through the First and Third branches as intelligent, beautiful, strong willed and known for her generosity. Within the branches of the Mabinogion Rhiannon, daughter of the Fairy King and Queen of Gwent demonstrates her power as well as her judgement, and her name means ‘Great’ or ‘Divine Queen’.

To add to her mystery and her reputation, in more recent years Rhiannon was the inspiration and subject of Stevie Nicks song on Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled album in the song ‘Rhiannon’.

So that’s the story behind the naming of the whisky, but what actually is in the bottle? Having a bad-ass Celtic Queen that Fleetwood Mac sings about it a fine start, but what does Penderyn do to the Rhiannon to set it apart?

First, the Rhiannon is matured in ex-bourbon barrels that previously contained Buffalo Trace. After that the batch is split, with 60% of the whisky finished ex-oloroso sherry hogsheads. The remaining 40% of the batch is finished in ex-Grand Cry French red wine casks from a Bordeaux Chateau. Though Penderyn is unable to name the chateau, we do know that previously the casks contained Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. At the end of it all the batch is married back together, bottled at 46& with no added colour and non-chill filtration. As with all the Icons of Wales, there are only 5000 bottles of the Rhiannon. All the information in the world can’t tell you what a whisky tastes like however, so lets jump into a dram.

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The nose is a smooth surface, with velvety raisins and crystallized rhubarb next to diced, baked apple. After the initial hit we get thick vanilla cream, some hard candy and then some fresh black berries dipped in white chocolate. Then its into raisin toast and a creme brulee for breakfast, the nose is incredibly balanced and all the flavors skate off rather than having to be pushed or forced.

On the palate the flavors skate off again, as though this whisky has been crafted with a sugared glass surface for those flavors to just shoot out, and that sugary base is there, balancing glace cherries, rich treacle, some dark chocolate and marzipan again but this time with meringue. After that its into pistachio, before dried fruits of figs, peaches, pineapple and rock melon. Its rich, with a full body and a final hit of toffee with soft spices lets us out of the palates grasp.

The finish is very smooth, a touch of banana and watermelon before cherry and figs come back with a touch of black pepper, lovely and long with touches of spicy oak.

In a weird way the whisky feels similar to a cognac; the body and mouth feel, that smooth velvety took me in more of a French than a Welsh direction, but that’s just a testament to this well made whisky. My only concern with this whisky is the very little press it received at the time of launched. As far as I can gather, Penderyn aren’t making any major announcements with there Icon of Wales Series, and while I understand the thought that the Whisky World is inundated with special releases as it is, I would urge them to reconsidered.

What they have here is one of those whiskies worth the hype they could build around it, and I only want to see whats next for the Icons of Wales Series.Slow easing fruits, low alcohol easing out the whisky, Rhiannon rides away into the sunset and you need to have another sip to bring her back.

This review is not sponsored or endorsed by any whisky or distillery, Penderyn or otherwise, and is entirely the thoughts and opinions of the author Somewhiskybloke.

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