Business Spotlight: Penderyn
Jon Tregenna is the media manager at Penderyn Distillery. Penderyn is a world-renowned producer of award-winning single malt whiskies and spirits at their distillery on the foothills of Bannau Brycheiniog, formerly known as the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, UK.
The Welsh Whisky Company joined GlobalWelsh’s Business membership programme in 2021. We caught up with Jon to find out more about the company and how it’s rebuilt the Welsh whisky industry and flying the flag for Wales all over the world…
"Our Faraday still offers an ABV at an industry high of 92%. This compares with Irish and Scottish whiskies which produce a spirit with around 67-70%. This means that our product is very clean and pure and this creates a different flavour to other whisky brands."
Give us a brief history of Penderyn?
It began in a pub in Hirwaun, when a group of friends decided to bring back distilling to Wales after a gap of 100 years. They started distilling in 2000, and we sold our first bottle in 2004.
There was a still available in Brecon which was uncommissioned, and one of the founders had a warehouse in Penderyn which, of course, is where the name came from. This became the distillery. The business ran out of money shortly afterwards so successful businessman Nigel Short came on board. Nigel had been tipped off that there was a distillery available in the Brecon Beacons, so he contacted Edinburgh University and spoke to the head of distilling. The distiller in Edinburgh visited Penderyn and was really surprised by how good the whisky was. With the confirmation that they were creating a brilliant product, Nigel joined the team, bringing Stephen Davies, Penderyn’s current CEO, with him. It was fitting to have Nigel on board as Stephen and other Penderyn members were still employed at this time by Nigel’s former steelworks company. It was a nice legacy of the industrial past and future of Wales coming together and as a team, they created what Penderyn is today.
Today, we have a wide range of single malt whiskies. Our most popular whiskies are the ‘Madeira’, in the Gold range, and ‘Legend’, in the Dragon range. If you look at our whiskies you can see the warm gold colour which is created due to our wood management.
We employ around 90 staff including three women distillers, two of whom were trained by the late Dr Jim Swan, a renowned whisky expert, who gave us traction in the whisky world. As Welsh whisky gains in profile and popularity around the world, we are looking to grow our team as we expand into new markets and open more distilleries.
"We are currently selling our products in over 50 countries, including Germany, France, and China, and we’re also in several countries such as Taiwan, Uruguay, and Malaysia."
Tell us about your products and what makes them different?
Our product range consists mainly of Welsh whisky, but we also produce rum, gin, cream liqueur and vodka with our Brecon Gin, Five Vodka, Merlyn Cream Liqueur and Siddiqui Rum. All of which have proved really popular.
Our Faraday still offers an ABV at an industry high of 92%. This compares with Irish and Scottish whiskies which produce a spirit with around 67-70%. This means that our product is very clean and pure and this creates a different flavour to other whisky brands. A lot of people find that they like the taste of Penderyn as it’s quite light and fruitier than our competitors.
Where can people buy Penderyn products?
We are currently selling our products in over 50 countries, including Germany, France, and China, and we’re also in several countries such as Taiwan, Uruguay, and Malaysia. We’re currently building our relationships in the USA as we’re selling our products in almost all of the states now. There are a few states with more complicated liquor laws dating back to prohibition, but we sell our core range of 8 bottles, as well as limited editions, across the USA. As for the UK, we sell some of our range in major grocery stores such as Tesco, Waitrose, and Sainsbury’s.
"I’d argue that there’s no Welsh person prouder than a Welsh person outside of Wales. They feel a bond to our product and us as a company because we represent a part of home to them. They might not be able to travel back to Wales, but they can taste it in our whiskies!"
Penderyn Whisky has become something of a Welsh icon, how do you think your brand is boosting Wales' global profile?
If you’d asked people about Penderyn around 12 years ago most people might not have known much about the company. However, if you asked people in Wales about us today most have heard of our products, if not sampled them. In fact, we sell around a quarter of all our whisky in Wales alone which shows the demand and support here at home.
We’re raising awareness of some of the amazing products that can come out of Wales. For centuries people have believed that good whisky can only come from Scotland and Ireland. The last distillery in Wales at the turn of the 19th century closed because Welsh people refused to support Welsh distillers as there was a belief that Welsh whisky was nothing more than a novelty, and of course, the temperance movement. I think Penderyn has proven that this is not the case, as we are part of the international whisky conversation. Wales has a very credible whisky heritage, Welsh-born Evan Williams who migrated to America set up the first Bourbon distillery in Kentucky, and research has also been done to connect Jack Daniels to Wales too.
It’s our plan to raise Wales’ profile through our ‘Icons of Wales’ series. We currently have 10 bottles and each of them gives some history or information about Wales. As an example, our 10th bottle titled Yma O Hyd after Dafydd Iwan’s Welsh anthem was done in partnership with the Welsh football association for the 2022 World Cup. To have our product promoted with the Welsh team elevates our profile, but it also encourages other nations to buy into Welsh products and recognise Welsh achievements.
"We are expanding into more airports, we’re currently in Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol but there are many more we’re looking to target."
Why is it important for Penderyn as a company to engage with the Welsh diaspora globally?
It’s incredibly important! We’ve found that when we take our products overseas and you connect with the Welsh diaspora, you get to see how proud they are of Wales. In a way, our success is Wales’ success and therefore theirs too. I’d argue that there’s no Welsh person prouder than a Welsh person outside of Wales. They feel a bond to our product and us as a company because we represent a part of home to them. They might not be able to travel back to Wales, but they can taste it in our whiskies!
If we were a service provider our Welsh connection wouldn’t be as important, but as an alcohol manufacturer you want people to know where you're from, why you’re in the market, and most importantly you want to represent your country.
When the Irish and Scottish left and travelled overseas they empowered one another because they had both fought so hard to be recognised as individual nations outside of England, and the same can be done for Wales with the help of the Welsh diaspora.
Photo: Bethan Lewis and Jon Tregenna at the Swansea Conference in March 2023
What’s next for Penderyn?
We hope to expand our exports as we are currently exporting around 20% in comparison to 80% for Scotch and Irish whiskies, however, they’ve been around for decades if not centuries longer. That being said, we are growing at a rapid rate and we’re quickly selling out in some of our newer export markets. We are expanding into more airports, we’re currently in Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol but there are many more we’re looking to target.
We opened a new distillery in Llandudno in May 2021, and we’re opening a 3rd distillery in Swansea’s Copper Quarter, in summer 2023, which will be fantastic for distilling more product but it will also help with tourism as all our distilleries have Visitor Centres, with tours and masterclasses available, as well as distillery shops.
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