I’m something of a fan of poetry. I cant write it to save my life, though I admire a few poems. One of my favourite possessions is a hipflask, a gift from my partner, engraved with a few lines from T.S Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’
Only there is shadow
Under the red rock
(Come in under the shadow
Of this red rock),
And I will show you something different
I will show you fear in a handful of dust
The entirety of the poem is quite something, taking you through various wastelands to see glimpses of life from London to what I’ve always assumed to be Uluru in Australia (Eliot never stated the direct meaning of his poem, leaving it open to interpretation). In some ways, whisky is very similar to poetry, no real answer behind it, down to personal preference and meaning something different to everyone who reads poetry and tries whisky.
There is (to my knowledge) no whisky with inspiration from Eliot, its just a good story and an easy segway into what I am looking at today, poetry and literature inspired whisky. In what seems to be evolving into a recurring theme, today I looking at another Penderyn Whisky from the Icons of Wales Series, No.3, Dylan Thomas Sherrywood.
Yes, I’m on the Penderyn again, still beating out reviews once a week regarding their product. Lets be honest, Penderyn is damn good stuff, and its often seemed that those who slate it seem more to be slating the idea of a Welsh whisky rather than the product itself, buts that’s a chat for another time. So, who was Dylan Thomas, and what is this whisky?
Born in Swansea in 1914, Thomas discovered poetry when his father, an English Literature professor, would recite Shakespeare to him, and exploded when he discovered the likes of Gerard Hopkins, W.B Yeats and Edgar Allan Poe. Leaving school young to become a junior reporter for the South Wales Daily Post, Thomas would leave this job at the age of 18 in 1932 to write poetry full time.
Moving to London in 1934, he would become acclaimed through the poetry world and publish his acclaimed work 18 Poems. Of his writing Dylan said the following,
‘I make one image—though ‘make’ is not the right word; I let, perhaps, an image be ‘made’ emotionally in me and then apply to it what intellectual & critical forces I possess—let it breed another, let that image contradict the first, make, of the third image bred out of the other two together, a fourth contradictory image, and let them all, within my imposed formal limits, conflict.’
It was two years after publishing 18 Poems that Dylan would meet Caitlin Macnamara, dancer and mistress of painter Augustus John in a London Pub. They would go on to marry and move to Laugharne and though their relationship was loving, Macnamara said herself in a 1982 memoir,
`I first met Dylan, inevitably, in a pub, since pubs were our natural habitat. From that day onwards, we became dedicated to pubs and to each other. Pubs were our primary dedication; each other our secondary. But one fit so snugly into the other that they were perfectly complementary. Ours was not only a love story, it was a drink story, because without alcohol, it would never have got onto its rocking feet.’
Unable to serve active combat during the way due to an illness, After the war Dylan and his family travelled, of note visiting Florence and penning In Country Sleep, And Other Poems, including his famed poem ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, recently expressed by Michael Caine in the 2014 film Intertellar (curiously the centenary of Thomas’ birth).
And expressed by the fantastic Richard Burton in this recording (a huge thanks to whiskyunplugged for bringing this to my attention, you can read their amazing site here https://whiskyunplugged.com/).
At the age of 35 Dylan travelled to America, conducting reading tours and popularising poetry readings once again. Touring America multiple times, his last public engagement was held at City College in New York, and a few days later he would collapse in the Chelsea Hotel following a long session at the White Horse Tavern, and he taken to St. Vincents Hospital in New York City he passed away on November 9th, 1953 at 39 years old. Buried in Laugharne where he lived with his wife after the London move, Dylan remains a prominent figure of literature to this day.
‘…here we just are, and there is nowhere like it anywhere at all.’
Thomas remains one of Wales and the worlds most celebrated figures, through poetry, literature and outside of his sphere. He does paint the portrait of a romantic poet, an affair with a mistress which lead to a marriage built on the back rooms of pubs and bars, with an untimely death brought on by too much drink. Indeed, his final words are often quoted to be
‘18 straight whiskies; I think it’s a record’.
We’ll raise a glass of this whisky to him, and hope that sitting down to sip this whisky named in his honour would do him proud. And that brings us neatly onto the bottle.
As has been said in other reviews the Icons of Wales series focuses on moments and peoples of Welsh history. The Dylan Thomas edition is the third bottling of the series and was released in 2014 for the centenary of the birth of the famed poet. Matured in ex-bourbon barrels and ex-oloroso sherry casks, it is slightly disappointing to note that there are no specifics regarding the age of the whisky, nor of the time in either the ex-bourbon or ex-oloroso sherry casks.
On the other hand, something that is including in your purchase is a small booklet. Filled with selected works of Thomas from Jon Tregenna of Laugharne and illustrations from Jeff Phillips, this little booklet most have cost the distillery nothing to include, though it represents a surprising amount. Giving the bottle holder the ability to read some portions of Thomas’ work while sipping their whisky really does feel like quite something, and while I am aware that many distilleries drop a little something into the box for the buyer this is a brilliant touch.
But you can never appreciate a whisky fully until you sip it, and that’s what we’re hear to do. Lets dive into the glass and see what poetic notes arise in our writing.
The glass opens with the redolence of a time worn pub, glasses of sherry scattered about us with some pint of room temperature stout and the heady smoke of pipe tobacco. Soon we find ourselves wandering through out the local, and seize upon a tray of sweets; vanilla and strawberry flaky pastries, creamy fudge and boiled fruit sweets. Soon after we move free of the pub to seek fresh air and outside breathe deep earthy sous bois and mushrooms.
A sprightly dram that bounces across the palate, a sip brings raspberries and melon before returning us to that dark room to sip on cassis, cherry brandy and champagne from a glass made of dark fruit straps and citrus skins. We move to a shot of dry cider and some sugary bourbon, before a heat falls across our finish bringing with it hot gooseberries, raisins and plum juice through the night as we sip our whisky.
It wasn’t the greatest whisky I’ve had in my life, but I enjoyed this Icons of Wales. Something about sitting down with a good whisky to read and muse over poetry from a celebrated author gives a perspective and helps to relax after a long day, and that little booklet inclusion gave plenty of chat between myself and Somewhiskylass. If you’re a lover of poetry I say grab yourself a bottle of this, if only to read some great excerpts while sipping on something. And raise a glass to those poets, who took some inspiration from whisky and gave us some writing that will last forever.
This review is not sponsored or endorsed by any whisky or distillery, Penderyn Distillery or otherwise, and is entirely the thoughts and opinions of the authors Somewhiskybloke.