There's something in the water
5 August 2013
Penderyn, an award-winning single malt whisky distillery based in the Brecon Beacons, is collaborating with geoenvironmental specialists at Cardiff University to learn more about the distillery's underground fresh water source in an in-depth study set to reveal the distinctive characteristics of the well which provides the water for one of the UK's most successful whiskies.
Penderyn is located in the Brecon Beacons National Park and draws its water from an unusual source in the Carboniferous Limestone deep underneath the distillery, making this a crucial ingredient in its single malt whisky. By examining local quarries, water sources and rock formations, the research team will shed light on the geology of the area, which is believed to include a sub-glacial valley running underneath the distillery.
As well as on-site geological research, the team will also be investigating the industrial history of the source, establishing how it has been used in the past.
The project will be led by Dr Tim Jones, senior lecturer in environmental geology in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, with assistance from geophysics expert Dr Peter Brabham and David Hull, a Masters student who will be working full time on the project.
The initial investigation into the local groundwater, which is currently underway, will be followed by a detailed examination of the bedrock system and the team is expected to report back with results in September.
Dr Jones commented: "Our first investigations suggest that this is a most unusual source of groundwater. The valley at Penderyn is a deep, probably V-shaped, cut through the Carboniferous Limestone, which is now in-filled with sediments. Rain falls on the catchment above the distillery, seeps through fractures in the limestone, and then is channelled down the valley under the distillery.
"The project will look at the volumes of groundwater, the pathways of that groundwater through the local geology and advise the distillery on the sustainable use of this important local resource."
Technical manager at Penderyn Giancarlo Bianchi added: "It's impossible to overstate just how important water is to our distillery. We're privileged to have a source available right underneath our site which has filtered down through the ancient Brecon Beacons. This has given us a reliable supply of clean, natural water that we have employed for many years now, and as the distillery expands its production facilities, we want to ensure we manage the source responsibly and sustainably.
"The work by the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences team at Cardiff University will help us achieving this goal as well as furthering our understanding of the local geology that shapes the water we use."
Locating the source of underground water in limestone areas is notoriously difficult, as water is not stored in rock aquifer pores like a sponge as it is found in sandstones. In impermeable limestone, water is found in complex arrangements of underground cavities and fissures which are very difficult to predict and often drilling for water is a hit or miss affair.
Dr Brabham added: "This project will be using geophysical techniques to image the sub-surface geology around the distillery to try and track down and understand the 3 dimensional underground framework of the water source."