An ongoing gathering of the exquisite, fun, and hard-to-find,
for the hard-to-buy-for friend on your list.
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If anyone was going to drag the whiskey world into a conversation about terroir, biodynamic farming, and heritage grains, it would have to be Mark Reynier. A one-time London wine-trader turned whiskey brand-builder, he rose to fame guiding the revival of Islay’s favorite stepchild whisky Bruichladdich, bending traditions and stepping on toes at every turn. Now he’s hard at work in a repurposed Guinness Plant on the River Suir in Waterford, Ireland, betting the farm, quite literally, on field-to-table, Irish single malt whiskey, nourished by the cycles of the moon.
Each Waterford bottle bears a code that links to a baseball card’s worth of information on the company website about the field, the farmer, the growing and malting schedule, the fermentation and distillation periods of the barley, plus an exhaustive catalogue of the barrel regimen once distillate is obtained. The spirit-geek trimmings must ultimately derive from Reynier’s background in wine: If great winemakers are farmers first, his contention would seem to be, why shouldn’t farmers be the progenitors of great whiskey?
Talk being cheap, getting heard above the racket of the traditional whiskey-drinking crowd is going to be the challenge for Waterford. But even if you don’t peg Waterford for an Irish whiskey—at least not right away–it is whiskey well-made, with good weight for its build. It sure looks Irish—pale straw to gold, with flashing rose highlights. And, as you might expect, from nose to palate this dram is all about grain—warm grain in a field, oatmeal, maybe a hint of nori. As the whiskey evolves in the glass, barley’s vegetal side sweetens into a fresh apple slice with berry notes. Toffee emerges, along with dried apricot and cinnamon. There’s a bit of salty oyster shell. And that brings us back to nutty.
Waterford is different. It’s un-traditional. It’s pleasantly strange, but also unexpectedly familiar. Most importantly it’s good whiskey. And for a new kid on the block in Ireland, that’s a good thing to be.