What you need to know:
- Waterford’s DNA is terroir-driven whiskies, exploring the environmental effects that affects the barley’s flavor.
- Luna 1.1 is the first biodynamic whisky produced using barley grown and harvested according to strict principles that treat the farm and the process of farming barley as a single ecosystem.
- This practice is widely found with winemakers, includes the use of horses to plough the land instead of machinery, using manure and compost as natural fertilisers and even sowing seeds in specific lunar phases.
- This is to create the utmost flavorsome whisky, as the healthiest soil produces the best possible flavor.
- Luna is the second release in the Arcadian series, following Gaia 1.1
- We share some thoughts on Waterford’s releases so far and what we think should be done instead. Read on to find out!
Waterford Distillery is launching the world’s first biodynamic whisky, Luna 1.1, made solely of biodynamically farmed and harvested barley.
In whisky world you don’t often hear the term “biodynamic”. It is after all a term more native to wine-making.
Biodynamic has a futuristic space-y ring to it, but to simplify, it refers to a set of farming methods that treats the farming process and its environment as interconnected. That is to say everything from soil fertility, to crop growth and even the livestock that thrives on the farm are all connected. Biodynamic principles shun the use of anything artificial or synthetic which are considered taboo, and instead opt to use manure or compost as fertilisers.
The father of biodynamic farming, Rudolf Steiner, sets out a lunar calendar to guide farming cycles. (Image Source: Medium)
If you think this reminds you of the word “organic”, you wouldn’t be far off. They are very similar in many ways. You can even consider biodynamic an extended form of organic practice, or as some term it, organic-plus or uber-organic.
Ultimately, the goal is to treat the entire farm and its processes as a single ecosystem. While this concept is widely applied to winemaking, it is still fairly nascent in the whisky arena.
The wine world's obsession with how its main ingredient, grapes, are grown has taken the alcohol category far ahead of whiskies in terms of farming practices. Top biodynamic wines recommended by critic, James Suckling. (Image Source: Tatler Hong Kong)
With wines, it is believed that biodynamic wines for example, taste better as they have a stronger, clearer and more vibrant, robust taste.
Yet, it would seem intuitive that everything that happens in the environment of the barley would affect it in one way or the other. And as the original source of whisky, the healthiest soil would yield the best quality barley, and hence top shelf whiskies.
If it works for grapes, why not barley?
There is a reason for that in fact. The whisky world has not fully bought into the heavy influence of farming practices affecting barley and therefore the final whisky's flavor because unlike wine, whisky is distilled. The rigorous distillation process is reasoned to strip out such subtle differences, as well as most if not all of the barley, leaving only the alcohol produced from fermentation.
Hence whiskies feature an abv above 40% versus wine which goes as low at 5% and usually hovers around 12% for your usual reds.
But I suppose it would seem peculiar to believe that the quality and character of the barley cannot influence the resultant whisky's flavor.
And I suppose that is what Waterford is out to demonstrate.
Image Source: Decanter
And who better to export the concept than Reynier, Waterford Distillery’s founder, who has spent more than 20 years in winemaking, with another 20 years under his belt in whiskymaking, revitalizing Islay distillery Bruichladdich.
For the Luna, Waterford has worked with three barley farms in Ireland who practice biodynamic agriculture. This includes practices such as planting seeds in keeping with specific phases of the lunar cycle, using horses to plough the fields instead of using machinery and using manure-filled cow horns instead of artificial fertilisers.
Natural fertilisers such as manure and compost are filled and buried in cow horns to avoid the use of artificial or synthetic fertilizers. (Image Source: Wineanorak)
This is all in the pursuit of a more flavorsome spirit of course, as Reynier believes that the “healthiest possible soil equals the best possible flavor”. So far more than 500 barrels of distillate already extracted using the biodynamic barley.
“Many of the world’s very greatest winemakers follow biodynamic farming to produce the most exquisite flavours… But nobody has released a whisky made from purely locally grown biodynamic barley – until now.”
Waterford's Mark Reynier has spent 40 years in both the wine and whisky industry and now he's combining his love for both. (Image Source: Fine + Rare)
As Reynier puts it, “malt whisky already is the most complex spirit in the world thanks to the barley from which it is distilled, and with a biodynamic cultivation regime there is the ultimate opportunity to enhance its flavour. At Waterford, we are on a mission to create the most complex, unique and profound whisky, and biodynamics is the next step on that journey.
Luna will be the second bottling in Waterford’s Arcadian series, after Gaia 1.1, the first organic-certified Irish single malt. The Arcadian series is Waterford’s bid to explore the terroir effects on whiskymaking and push the boundaries of whiskymaking.
Terroir is the DNA of Waterford, and to be sure, their whiskies are making waves in the whisky community. With so many distilleries pushing out “experimental” series that run along the lines of different casks, or different woods used, we seldom see a distillery completely trying to reinvent the wheel. In this case, it may just be what the whisky world needs. Something actually different.
We reached peak Waterford, fatigue began setting in.
As such, we were quick to get our hands on some of Waterford’s releases, the Ballykilcavan, the Ballymorgan, Bannow, the list goes on… We did see promise in them but at some point, fatigue began to set in as we approached peak Waterford, with single farm origin (SFO) releases nearing the double digits in two years since its inaugural launch.
The Gaia release from the new Arcadian series could not have come soon enough, to break the chain of SFO releases. Again we got our hands on it and while it was critically acclaimed, we felt that the distinctiveness was not too far off from the SFO releases.
We would be lying if we said we would not try to get a taste of the Luna, but perhaps one aspect of winemaking we would like to see Waterford export from winemaking is that of aging.
Now we’re not ones to snuff a whisky that isn’t double digit in age; we have tried some really solid NAS releases, even if their prices have steadily headed up.
But we do have a suspicion that if we are to truly see the differences in terroir, from barley farming and harvesting techniques, to the difference that one farm to the next brings, age would certainly help make those differences sufficiently clear and be met with great acclaim and appreciation.
It is after all through age that the character of a whisky is made concrete and distinctive as its flavor mellow out and solidify.