Penderyn Distillery is putting Wales on the global stage with its award-winning single malt whiskies and spirits distilled in the foothills of the magnificent Brecon Beacons.
When a group of friends came up with the idea of launching Wales’ first whisky distillery in over 100 years, they knew they were onto something special from the start.
‘We wanted to create something as pure and precious as Welsh gold’ the company says on it’s website. And they did just that, as chief executive Stephen Davies explains…
Tell us about Penderyn Distillery, what does the company do?
Penderyn makes award-winning whiskies and spirits at their distillery in the southern foothills of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
What were you doing prior to launching the distillery?
Myself and our brand director both came from the steel industry. Other staff came from many different walks of life as the last distillery in Wales closed over 100 years ago.
What inspired you to set up the company? Have you always been entrepreneurial?
A group of local businessmen bought a whisky still that they heard was for sale. One of them had a wine warehouse with its own source of spring water. None of the gang knew anything about distilling, but they were adventurers.
How was the concept received?
It was a great story from the start. Bringing back distilling to Wales; the unique still; excellent location; passionate team… plus the fact that the whisky was excellent. Within a year of bottling (bear in mind that whisky has to remain in a cask for 3 years and 1 day) we were selling not just locally, but in London and France.
How was your first year in business? Did you encounter any challenges?
As mentioned above, whisky takes time. From the moment the distillery opened it would be at least three years, and nearer four, before the whisky was ready. Therefore we sold gin, vodka and cream liqueur which didn’t have such restrictions. They remain an important part of our business, but single malt whisky is our main product.
What do you think makes you stand out from your competitors?
We have a different story to the traditional Scottish and Irish distilleries. And we’re Welsh! However, that isn’t enough. Thankfully our whisky has won many awards and is now part of the international whisky conversation.
What is your USP?
We have a unique still, unique location, fresh water supply, great product… and our own visitor centre which welcomes over 40,000 tourists through its doors each year.
What other major challenges have you had to overcome?
The biggest issue is managing our customers’ expectations. There are occasionally periods when we have more orders than stock. Cashflow is also sometimes an issue, but luckily for us we have a great team of shareholders.
Also, what would you say your biggest achievement has been to date?
Establishing ourselves in the whisky world in a relatively short period of time.
How has the company grown since its launch?
In the 17 years since we started distilling our workforce has gone from five to over 50 and we now operate across three sites. Turnover has increased markedly, but again whisky is a long game. Much of our profits are ploughed back into stock creation.
You’ve also looked into exporting, how has that fared?
Exports are vital to the growth of the business. It’s sometimes a daunting task to visit a new country, but our team have proven very successful in making friends and creating new markets. We now sell to over 25 countries.
How important is exporting to food and drink producers such as yourself?
The Scottish distilleries export over 75% of their whisky. We export around 20%, but that figure is growing all the time.
Looking forward, what are your plans for the company?
We are hoping to open two new distilleries in Wales in the next two to three years to satisfy an increasing demand for our products, and to have the facility to welcome more visitors.
Finally, if you could give three nuggets of advice to an aspiring entrepreneur, what would they be?
Plan, plan and plan again. It’s all in the detail! Know your market, don’t be too ambitious too soon, and nurture relationships every step of the way.