It must be strange being Penderyn, Mackmyra, or Amrut and watching all that's going on in whisky at the moment.
All three of them- and there are others - were formed as small independent distilleries without any consideration of fashion or trends, and were considered small and largely inconsequential by the old world order.
Now, though, they are seen as pioneers of a move to independent craft distilling, are analysed by new entrants to the market, and are held up as examples of what can happen if you get it all right.
Because demand has been so high there is no spare whisky.
But they have now grown in to fully established businesses, are in some cases growing , and are considered by many as too big for the craft distilling sector. And by themselves, too, perhaps - none of them have joined the Craft Distillers' Alliance, for instance. And now, whether they like it or not, they're no longer the new kids in town.
But Penderyn remains in a special place in the independent whisky world, because it set out to create whisky differently and it adopted a production system that is all its own.
For those not aware, it has a specially designed still which is part pot and part column, and which produces a spirit at relatively high strength. The spirit is then matured for four years. Normally half of it goes in to casks which had previously contain Madeira, a quarter in to ex bourbon casks and a quarter in to casks which had previously contained unpeated Scotch whisky.
Because demand has been so high there is no spare whisky. A proportion is no doubt being stored for longer maturation, but otherwise every cask that is matured for four years must be included in to the next batch of the whisky, meaning that each monthly batch provides a slightly different Penderyn to the last. To see what I'm talking about check The Whisky Bible, where Jim Murray reviews scores of them. Which is like reviewing every night of a Rolling Stones tour and commenting that Richards played a longer solo during Symphony For The Devil on the 25th night, and the percussionist didn't bother with maracas two nights later.
Penderyn managing director Stephen Davies has faced and overcome many of the obstacles that the newest distilleries are dealing with now, and is taking a keen interest in what's happening. He doesn't find the position he finds himself in strange at all and he is happy and relaxed that he gets the best of both worlds - high enough up the ladder to flourish and expand, close enough to the industry's roots to share values with new craft distillers.
"There is a great deal of quality and creativity in the new whiskies and we are excited to be part of a growing industry," he said. "We are very positive about the industry in general and Penderyn’s growing part in the spirits business. There’s a move towards high-quality ‘craft’ whiskies that are produced in small numbers by independent distilleries. This won’t wipe any big players out, but it does mean that small, craft distilleries like Penderyn have more of a chance of success and growth than we would have done decades ago."
Penderyn may well have played a major role in opening consumer attitudes to new whisky tastes, as it represented an early example of a 'new world' whisky attempting to find its own taste rather than emulate Scotch. Davies doesn't take the credit.
"We’ve always found malt whisky drinkers on the whole to be open minded and keen to discover new whiskies with fresh and creative expressions," he says. "The fact that the 'new world' category is expanding only adds more interest and attracts more attention. On the whole, I’d say that drinkers are not only ready to accept new styles of whisky, but that they actively seek these out."
Penderyn has been quietly extending its range and launching single cask and cask strength whiskies for particular events. By coincidence some of its best releases like the cask strength Swansea City bottling from whisky all matured in portwood has a lot in common with what Australia is doing.So does he think this is the start of a trend?
"I think Port itself is very well understood and well liked by premium consumers and certainly in the case of Penderyn it helps create a delicious whisky both in its pink blush colour and rich fruity taste," he says."I can’t speak for other distilleries but I’d say that there does seem to be a trend, and based on our success with it I’d be surprised if we don’t see more distilleries following suit."
Penderyn be building two new stills at the distillery which will be ready in 2013 and 2014 and market development is a priority. But there will be more special releases and Davies predicts the distillery will continue to grow alongside the new craft distillers.
"The future looks very positive indeed with a focus on producing creative and interesting world class premium single malt whiskies," he said.