Waterford Heritage Hunter 1.1 Irish Whisky

Waterford Heritage Hunter 1.1 Irish Whisky (Photo by the brand)

Terroir in Whisky

As if single-handedly driving the focus on terroir in whisky production wasn’t enough, Waterford Whisky resurrected the nearly extinct Hunter barley in a big way. Waterford’s founder, Mark Reynier, is the driving force behind a renaissance in spirits production that borrows wine’s focus on terroir and applies it to whiskey and other spirits (see our story on Renegade rum). Yes, Waterford indeed leads the whisky world in organic production. And it’s equally true that Waterford leads in small-farm, single-origin, terroir-driven whiskies. We can now add the resurrection of a nearly extinct barley variety to their extensive list of accomplishments!

Resurrecting Hunter Barley

Hunter barley was developed and eponymously named by agriculture pioneer Dr. Herbert Hunter in 1959. Noted for its distinct flavor profile, Hunter enjoyed a successful run for twenty years until a sea of cheaper barley cultivars made it undesirable. The lack of interest in Hunter was so profound the only remnant of this once bountiful crop was a 50-gram bag (about a palm-full) of seed at the Irish Department of Agriculture’s seed bank, where it was saved for posterity!

Waterford committed to the resurrection by germinating the seeds in their greenhouse, which turned into 4 kilos, and then, over two years, enough to plant a 10-acre test plot. That, in turn, fueled commercial planting in the lime-rich terroir of Donoughmore. The final result? 25.5 metric tons of barley, enough for 50 casks of whisky.

Heritage Hunter 1.1

Waterford whiskies have a theme – a backbone of baked bread and cooked barley – as noted in our Gaia 2.1 and Luna 1.1 reviews. Like the others, Hunter 1.1 pours a pale straw color. As noted, the barley and baked bread aromas lead, with notable oak, cut stray, and dried floral notes. In the background, hints of sawdust, dried apricot, and apple cider vinegar dance lightly.

The initial sip burns, courtesy of the 50% ABV. The mouthfeel is light with a hint of sweetness that opens into a burst of juicy orchard fruits, barley grass, orange oil, savory spices, and burnt white sugar. There are notes of fresh cream, buttered toast, baked white fish, and cooked fruit compote. A hint of bitter cocoa, black pepper, and distant salt follow. The finish is long but drying.

Waterford Heritage Hunter 1.1, like many of its siblings, is far removed from what many would consider a typical Irish whisky. It’s complex and not a little hard to decipher. It’s a “thinking” whisky that will likely invoke a love or hate response. If you’re the adventurous type seeking something outside the norm, Waterford will provide you with hours of contemplation capacity. That said, if you’re seeking another alternate for J or B, you should probably skip this one!