Waterford Whiskey from Ireland is particularly focused on emphasizing the concept of land in Irish whiskey, creating interesting expressions along the way. The distillery’s latest release is all about barley and how it affects flavor, particularly a revived variety that hasn’t been used in whiskey production since the 1970s.
The things that give whiskey its flavor can be narrowed down to a few important elements: the type of cask it is aged in, the method of distillation, the water used to age it, and perhaps most importantly, the type of grains used in the mashbill.
Waterford pays close attention to all of them. Cask finishing, for example, is seen as a crutch to improve a poorly made whisky; instead, the preferred method is initial aging in several different barrel types. When it comes to the barley used to make the distillery’s single malts.
Waterford considers single farm origins, organic, and biodynamic grains. The latest whiskey depth comes in the form of a new heritage: Hunter whiskey, made from a barley variety that dates back to 1959 but hasn’t been used for nearly half a century.
The barley in question is labeled “heirloom rare” and was introduced by breeder Dr. Herbert Hunter in the late 1950s. This new whiskey is part of the distillery’s Arcadian Farm Origins line, which is all about farming techniques and land. Hunting barley is much more expensive than regular barley varieties, and there was very little seed available—only 50 grams remained in the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food, and Maritime’s seed bank.
Over four years, this small amount was planted on ten acres of barley at partner Minch Malt, enough to distill the first 50 barrels of whiskey in 2019. This is equivalent to 10,000 bottles of Heritage: Hunter (only 1,000 are available here). in the United States), the whiskey is aged in a blend of 45 percent first-fill American oak, 19 percent American virgin oak, 21 percent premium French oak, and 15 percent Vin Doux Naturel wine barrels.
“Maltese whiskey gets its flavor and complexity from barley,” founder and CEO Mark Reynier said in a statement. “Over time, this inherent flavor has been threatened as distillers have prioritized harvest.” Because Waterford Whiskey is an agricultural product, not an industrial one, we stepped up to revive iconic but forgotten barley varieties. In doing so, we were able to unlock a remarkable insight into what whiskey would have tasted like decades ago.
We got our first taste of the whiskey, and as always with Waterford, the taste is as interesting as the concept behind it. The whiskey is a light golden color with big sandwiches, apples, and a strong but beautiful earthiness that is truly unique.
The palate continues that story with prominent spices and 50 percent ABV warmth and earthiness mixed with dried fruit, baked apple, grapefruit, orange, and other grass and hay notes. This whiskey strangely has an almost agave character, although of course that wasn’t part of the recipe.
Legacy: Hunter isn’t just a drinkable whiskey you can take to a party to enjoy with friends, and that doesn’t seem to be the intention here. That’s not to say that this whiskey is so cerebral that it can’t be enjoyed by anyone regardless of their experience—quite the opposite, because that notion is old and dusty.
Waterford’s point seems to be to straddle the line between outright experimentation and pushing the boundaries and creating something that is truly enjoyable to drink. Sometimes these young whiskeys lean towards the old, but they are always worth a taste for any whiskey lover. Such is the case with Heritage: Hunter.