World Whisky Wednesday is back!
I’ve had two weeks off and told myself that it’s because I’ve been celebrating multiple things: a birthday, Australian father’s day, my partner finishing her Masters..but, really, I’ve just been a bit lazy.
However, I’m back and have cast my eye over what remains of my whisky shelf (not really a shelf, they’re spread across the floor in a corner) wondering what to review. Dutch, South African, Spanish, Kiwi whisky, some stuff from Sweden, I’ve got quite the collection at the moment but, as my partner and I have just finished our time in Wales, I looked at a Penderyn instead.
Today, I’ll be looking at the first whisky from the Icons of Wales Series, Penderyn Red Flag.
Protests have been a part of society since… well, as long as there have been societies. The struggle for change, social reform, social justice and equality have been present in societies throughout history and the fight for these things marks every nation and every culture. The Red Flag mentioned in the name and proudly emblazoned on the label holds true to those roots. If you’re unaware of the Red Flag in Wales, it has its roots in the Merthyr Rising, commemorating the first time the Red Flag was raised in a form of social protest.
The Merthyr Rising occurred in 1831, though had started years previously as working class communities faced back-breaking conditions and fierce inequality, resulting in events such as the Barley-Meal Riots of 1801 and the South Wales strike of 1816. In May of 1831, wage decreases as well as an increase in food and living costs led to walkouts from the Cyfartha iron works, coal mines and strikes from other areas. These walkouts all came to a head in Merthyr Tydfil, with people calling for reform and, literally, crying Caws a Bara (cheese and bread)and I lawr a’r Brenin (down with the King). Seizing the town, the debtor court was sacked, log books containing debt records were destroyed and demands for wage reform were placed. The British Government’s response to this was, unsurprisingly, to send in members of the 93rd Highland Regiment to quell the uprising.
On 1st June, those same protesters persuaded workers through the local mines to strike and join them. The confrontation peaked on 2nd June when a group, led by Lewsyn yr Heliwr (Lewis Lewis), confronted local employers, magistrates and the High Sheriff demanding a reduction in the cost of bread and an increase in wages. After being told to return to their home, the protesters clashed with the 93rd Highland Regiment and, when some attempted to seize the soldiers weapons, orders were given to open fire into the crowd.
Hundreds were injured. Twenty four people died. The soldiers later withdrew, closing themselves within Penydarren house to protect those with wealth from those who just wanted to live, and the town was ceded to the protesters.
For days, the town remained within the control of the some 7,000-10,000 protesters, with the soldiers and the upper class residing in Penydarren House. News of the strike spread through Wales, inspiring strikes in Northern Monmouthshire, Neath and Swansea Valley. These protests would eventually fall when the folk of Merthyr Tydfil, who had not joined the protesters, became disillusioned. The government representatives within Penydarren House created divisions in the protesters’ council and 450 soldiers marched to the meeting with guns at the ready.
Eventually, the protesters were dispersed and the riots ended.
In the aftermath, 26 people would be arrested and put on trial. Some would be imprisoned, others sent to Australia (which was still a penal colony). Two individuals were sentenced to death by hanging, one of whom was Lewsyn yr Heliwr (Lewis Lewis) who was found guilty of robbery and his confrontation with the employers – though his sentence would later be reduced to penal work after testimony from a soldier he protected during a riot.
The other individual was Dic Penderyn (Richard Lewis) who was charged with stabbing a soldier with the bayonet of a gun. With the sentence of Lewsyn yr Heliwr reduced and a mass petition from the peoples of Merthyr Tydfil, people hoped that Dic Penderyn’s sentence would also be reduced. However, he was found guilty and hanged on 13th August 1831 in Cardiff. Years later, someone else would testify to the crime, and another would admit to lying under oath.
The Red Flag became a symbol of Socialists and Communists. Dic Penderyn became the first popular martyr of the Welsh working class and the Merthyr Rising was recognised as a landmark event through Welsh and British working class history. History and what goes into a glass is an amazing thing to consider when sipping on a whisky, but what really sits in the glass today?
Not so different from the standard Penderyn offering, the Red Flag Edition is ex-bourbon barrel aged and finished in Madeira casks. Now that we know the history and the whisky, let’s dive into the glass and discover the flavours within.
The nose opens early in the morning with some apple slices tipped in lemon juice with a crisp pear. It then turns to oats mixed with honey that’s been left just a touch too long in the jar. We’re suddenly outside when some grass, straw and hay join in, with a sweet picnic of bonbons, raspberry and cherry boiled sweets, burnt brown sugar, and some dark cocoa sprinkled with vanilla.
The palate starts light and fluffy before it turns to cream in the mouth, citrus peel of orange and lime mingling with some castor sugar. The malt and oats come back with some marmalade and light spice, hints of sherry and hazelnut oil. A Terry’s chocolate starts to round out the finish but then it turn slightly bitter, it’s a long finish with almonds and a final hint of Ferrero Roche.
Is it a good whisky?
I enjoyed it. It’s more average than good, just a bit safe. It’s not the best from the Icons of Wales Series, the Rhiannon holds that place tight though hopefully it can be unseated one day as Penderyn continue to experiment and grow as a distillery. What it symbolises – the protest of an under-class and the movement that follows in their wake – is far more important.
And this is not the only instance. We see this, time and time again, through all countries, nations, cultures. When oppression becomes the norm, the oppressed rise and take a stand – though it is often, sadly, met with the same Government and authoritative response. When I wrote that I wanted to discuss Penderyn becausewe had just left Wales, that wasn’t completely true. I also wanted to write about it because these social movements still happen.
The world is moving through great changes. Protests against inequality, racism, political corruption and a right wing resurgence can be seen across the entire world, most blatantly in the United States. The Black Lives Matter movement, always calling for justice, has seen riots breaking out in most major cities following the numerous deaths murder of black Americans by the police. People, who are standing against the repressive institutional machinations of society that has been forced upon them for generations, have been de-humanised and demonised by the media, and by their own President, a man who swore to protect his citizens but cares only for himself.
We saw in Merthyr Tydfil that when some rose to demand equal pay, they were faced with refusal, punishment and death. We still see those demanding equal rights refused their rights, harassed, imprisoned and killed. The constant attempts of erasure of trans-women in the UK, the attempts to erase the identity of the LGBT community across the world, in Poland. The rise of violence against women that so increased during the UK lock down. The consistent ableist narrative that fail to realise the disabilities… to name a few.
We remember the name Dic Penderyn. We remember the Merthyr Tydfil rising. We remember the names Jacob Blake. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Malgorzata Szutowicz. Victoria Woodhall. All those names we must remember, and so many, many more.
Next time you have a whisky, be it this whisky or any other, and you sit down to consider what went into making the whisky, also consider what is happening today, the whiskies that will be, and the protests that are.
If we cannot fight for our fellow humans in their constant pursuit of their deserved equality and freedom, then we don’t deserve our whisky.
To learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement, click here.
To learn more about Trans Rights, click here.
To learn more about Womens Rights, click here.
To purchase Penderyn consider clicking here to support small business.
And to support African American owned distilleries through the United States, consider purchasing from and supporting the following.
This review is not sponsored or endorsed by any distillery, Penderyn or otherwise, nor by any movement, and is entirely the words of the author Somewhiskybloke.