We were lucky enough to speak to Stephen Davies, Penderyn’s Chief Executive Officer, about their brand new distillery in Swansea: Penderyn Swansea Copperworks, which is open to visitors from today. While the spirit won’t start flowing for another month or so, this is a great chance to take a sneak peek inside the historic building and see what this iconic Welsh brand has planned for the future.
“This distillery was actually planned probably five or six years ago” explains Davies. “We made a plan to open two new distilleries, the one in the Llandudno, which has now been open for a couple of years and been a great success for us, and one in Swansea. We found a very old site called the Hafod Morfa Copperworks. At one time around half of the world’s copper was smelted here in Swansea, and this copperworks building that we’re now in is one of the very few remaining buildings left of that legacy.”
Astoundingly not only is Penderyn, with help from partners including the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Swansea Council and the Welsh Government, restoring a piece of Welsh heritage, but it’s also moving into a building which has a small but fascinating connection to the distillery’s own history. “Our whisky stills are designed by Doctor David Faraday, and David is a descendant of the famous Victorian scientist Michael. Strangely – and we didn’t know this when we came here – Michael Faraday studied the smelting of copper on this very site.” The distillery is honouring this connection in their visitors centre, with an experience which illuminates the site’s history through an imagined discussion between Michael Faraday and John Vivian, the original owner of the copperworks.
“We love the fact that this old copperworks building is now being brought back to use after being empty for many, many years, and that we have this wonderful copper connection and are putting our beautiful copper stills to work on this site” says Davies.
The Penderyn team are not the only ones to be thrilled at preserving some of Swansea’s history. “I’ve seen some very emotional people over the last couple of days”, Davies continues. “I think there was a fire here in 1980. It’s been derelict for a long time and people worried that the heritage would be lost. So a lot of people are very happy to see this building coming back into use, and to see it coming back into use with what’s perceived as a premium brand, which obviously we’re thrilled to bits about.”
So what’s the distillery like inside? “It’s the same actual layout as we’ve got at Penderyn in the Brecon Beacons” explains Davies. So it’s a one and a half metric tonne mash tun that is serving six washbacks, and then two of our Penderyn Faraday stills – which are very unusual single pot stills which have single pot with a couple of columns on them – plus a pair of pot stills, all 2,500 litres. The copper stills are looking great and and they’re displayed well here because of the design of the distillery. As we commission them now the colour will change. It’s just lovely.”
Penderyn expect the distillery’s production capacity to be around 400,000 litres of pure alcohol, bringing the total across the three sites to 900,000 litres. While it might seem odd to have three locations all producing whisky for the same brand, Davies emphasises that they will all have their own distinct identity. “We will give customers complete transparency. To have three distilleries under the one brand name, it’s not unique, but it is unusual, and the most important thing to me is that when a consumer buys a bottle of Penderyn in the future, that they’ll know where it’s coming from. Obviously if it’s come from one of our distilleries it’ll be a single malt, if it’s come from a marriage from two or three distilleries it’ll be a blended malt.” Which elements of the Penderyn range will be made in Swansea is yet to be determined but, much like the Llandudno distillery pioneered Penderyn’s peated whisky, the Swansea distillery is sure to bring something unique to the table.
Swansea Copperworks is opening at a very exciting time for Penderyn as a whole. It been named one of the UK’s fastest-growing brands, and over the past give years has seen positive growth in both sales and recognition at home and overseas. Penderyn is now sold across the world, including in America, China, Japan and Taiwan, and among Stephen Davies’ plans are ambitions to increase their exports across these markets. To do that, however, Penderyn needs enough whisky – which is part of the reason Swansea is so crucial.
Yet Davies’ enthusiasm for the copperworks project makes it clear that the real driving force behind it is the same reason that’s been central to the brand’s success – a passion to not only be the home of Welsh whisky, but also to reflect the best of Wales.
The distillery have put a lot of care into the visitor experience, and expect their centre to welcome up to 60,000 thousand people per year. If you’d like to be one of the first to look around the Penderyn Swansea Copperworks distillery, simply visit their website to book your tour.