We had such big plans for Brecon Beacons. Tarrant worked out a huge circular walk taking in the beautiful rolling hills that’d take most, if not all, of the day given my penchant for sitting down. But you know what scuppers hiking plans? Apart from sheer laziness? Weather. The fucking weather scuppers hiking plans but I’ll not lie, we actually just didn’t fancy an epic walk today so we settled for a walk to the summit of Pen-y-Fan, the highest point in the Brecon Beacons. And no, it’s not, as us English would think, pronounced “Penny Fan” because that’s not how Welsh works. It’s more like “Pen-Er-Van.” I think. I’m about as good with languages as I am at walking up hills without turning bright red and swearing a lot.
It wasn’t the most eventful of walks and, as we headed into the fog, it wasn’t the most beautiful. We hiked up and up and up, stopping lots to wonder why we considered this any manner of enjoyable, then there’s this bit that slopes down. Ah, fuck it. It’s all well and good enjoying the decline now but it’d only mean we had to get back up that fucker later on. The path is pretty good to be fair, though I did manage to stand in a little stream at one point and I swear, I thought I was never going to have dry feet ever again. I felt like my shoes had been sodden for at least 84% of this holiday and this was probably my life now and I was going to get trench foot and die. It took Tarrant to convince me that I wasn’t going to get trench foot because I’m not a medieval fucking peasant and I should probably indulge in a tall glass of cement and harden the fuck up.
Corn Du is the first peak you get to on this trail and it’s marked with a little pile of stones and mud so we went and stood on it just to say we had. The visibility at this point was mere metres but Pen-y-Fan isn’t far from here and it doesn’t feel like too much of a climb. If you’ve gotten this far then there’s no point in giving up. We carried on through the fog until we got to a bigger pile of stones with a little sign on it declaring that we had indeed made it to the summit of the highest point in the Brecon Beacons at 886 metres. I’ve walked up so many fucking hills this holiday you could stop bullets with my calf muscles.
We got a couple of blokes to take our photo then hung out in the mist for a bit in the hopes it’d clear. Nah, no such luck, and it gets cold and clammy when you’re shrouded in cloud so we began our descent. It did seem to clear up as we headed down and for a brief moment we considered heading back to to top, but our next stop was going to be a whiskey distillery and that seemed like an infinitely more pleasant option than the ongoing abuse of our legs. We even made it back to the car in a decent amount of time, found a lay-by that had tea and toilets as we were in need of both, then drove to Penderyn Distillery to see if we could get on a tour.
Turns out we could if we didn’t mind waiting an hour and the very helpful woman behind the desk gave us money off vouchers for a feed at a nearby hotel while we waited, but told us if we just fancied something quick and simple there was a lay-by up the way which was home to a burger van with a 5 star hygiene rating. That sounded like more our style and we were fucking starving after our walk. We pulled in and ordered bacon cheese burgers, and they were wonderful! He’s very proud of his 5 star rating too, he told us that the hotel was always trying to get them caught out and they get more surprise inspections than they should do but they always pass with flying colours. I’m generally not that bothered about the state of the vans I get my burgers from but if you’re going to grab a feed whilst you wait for your tour, I recommend this guy.
I recommend the tour too. It was only about £8 each. You’re not allowed to take photos inside the distillery, it’s a health and safety thing, maybe something to do with sparks and alcohol fumes. Unfortunately I remember things by taking photos so I can write in this blog at a later date or I’d not have any memory of anything, so here’s what the parts of my brain that haven’t been replaced with vodka can recall.
Our guide was a Scottish bloke called Alan. I think he was called Alan. To be honest it could have been Dave or Barry. Let’s call him Alan. He started by saying, “As you probably know, to make whiskey first you have to make beer.” I glanced around at the other tourists to see if I, the bartender, was the only one that actually didn’t know that. Malted barley is chucked into a mash tun and washed three times with water of varying temperatures and eventually it becomes a barley wash. At some point, when it’s 8% ABV, it goes into this big still. Apparently most distilleries use a two or three pot method whatever that is, but here they chuck it into a big copper still which was designed by Dr David Faraday who is descended from that Faraday so they’re not dicking about when it comes to their whiskey. Booze is science.
I’m going to shamelessly plagiarise this next bit from their website on account of the fact there’s no other way of putting it:
“As the steam heats the liquid it starts to bubble and the vapour rises into a copper column above the still. The column has a number of perforated plates and the vapour will condense on the first plate before being returned to the still. As the process continues the vapour will reach the second plate and so on, before evaporating and falling back to the still, each step leaving the spirit smoother, softer and more refined. Eventually the spirit is drawn from the seventh plate on the second column and piped to our spirit safe where it lands, literally drop by drop, over the course of the day.”
And then you can watch it dripping, drop by drop, a clear liquid at 92% ABV. That’ll strip your oesophagus on the way down. There’s probably so much more to it than that but without photos to jog my memory that’s about all you’re getting. Then we were lead out of the distillery and into the tasting room where we learned about ageing, because that clear liquid dripping from the Faraday still ain’t whiskey. First they need to add some of that fresh Brecon Beacons water to it to take it down to a less likely to get you arrested for drunk and disorderly 63.4% ABV. All of the flavour of Penderyn whiskey comes from the casks they’re aged in and they buy their casks from Buffalo Trace, an American bourbon. It’s worth noting that in order to call itself a bourbon it must be made from at least 51% corn (as opposed to the barley that whiskey is made from), and aged in American Oak barrels that have been charred on the inside. It’s the law. No, really, it’s literally the law. And fun fact; the reason that Jack Daniels is a sour mash and not a bourbon is because it’s filtered through charcoal which instantly disallows them from calling it a bourbon.
As well as creating flavour, barrels are also used to draw out any impurities but because Penderyn use that badass Faraday still there ain’t no impurities to draw out, so they just focus on what barrels can add the flavour they want. You can only use a cask to hold bourbon once so it’s not like they’re ever gonna run out. After it’s done in the bourbon cask they put it in a Madeira barrel to add more flavour. They know when to do this by sniffing it. Seriously, distillers are like fucking bloodhounds. I can’t smell a fart in a lift. And in order to call itself whiskey it needs to be aged for three years, minimum.
We learned so much more here today and I even remember a lot of it but I need to finish this fucking post at some point. As we stood around attempting to absorb information, he showed us the different colours of the whiskey at various stages of ageing, and invited us to try some of the new spirit, the 92% shit. He said they weren’t meant to do it any more on account of hygiene laws, but he also figured that 92% booze would kill most germs. We all agreed and had a little dab of it and yep, it burns as expected. Best bit of this tour though, you get to do a tasting, or if you’re driving you can take a tiny bottle home. Tarrant went in for a couple of decent shots of whiskey. I was contemplating taking home a mini bottle of their premium vodka until I wrapped my chops around Merlyn, similar to Baileys. Bugger me backwards, it’s delicious! Not only did I take home a cheeky little sample of it I bought a bottle in the shop. I could quite happily lie back and have this shit funnelled into my facehole until I pass out.
We’d been promising ourselves a rest day and our unholy early start this morning meant that we could easily climb a hill, tour a distillery, pick our own strawberries and still make it back to camp in time for a chilled afternoon of making daiquiris, cooking on the fire, and relaxing with our books acquired from Hay-on-Wye. Camping daiquiris are somewhat of a tradition with us, if you consider “did it that one time in Cornwall” a tradition. We swung by the supermarket to pick up the cheapest rum we could find and spent a hour or so mashing it together with berries, lime and gomme until the awful taste of the rum was masked. The site hens became incredibly interested in what we were doing and tried their luck with the pulp once the liquid had been squeezed out of it. I’ve no idea what a drunk hen looks like but Tarrant wouldn’t let me find out. Stunning end to our time camping though, and the weather gods were much kinder to us this afternoon than they’d been in the past. Boozes, char-grilled dinner, and a lovely, relaxing read until it went dark.
Brecon Beacons, Wales
Stayed at: Priory Mill Farm, Brecon, Powys