Ireland’s Waterford Distillery, terroir-driven Irish whisky producer, has bottled its first Heritage whisky, Hunter, by resurrecting a rare barley variety from a bygone era. The barley used in this release is named after pioneering plant breeder, Dr. Herbert Hunter and the barley was first introduced in 1959. Hunter barley was acclaimed for its distinctive flavors for almost two decades before yield-enhancing varieties took preference.
The new single malt whisky is the latest expression in Waterford Distillery’s journey to uncover whisky’s most unique flavors, through different agricultural techniques, terroirs, grains and seeds. As part of Waterford Whisky’s Arcadian Farm Origins, Heritage: Hunter utilizes modern technology to identify historic flavors and bring them back to life for today’s single malt connoisseurs.
Working alongside partners Minch Malt and the Irish Department of Agriculture, it took Waterford more than eight years of leveraging lost breeding programs from the 1990s, to discover the original flavors and when the barley first evolved with, and adapted to, Ireland’s fields and climate – its terroirs. While Heritage: Hunter was developed purely for the curiosity of flavor, it also has environmental benefits. The barley was grown in soil with a high humus content, which retains water more efficiently than conventional soil and therefore protects crops against periods of drought. This protection is enhanced by the fact that Hunter barley has a larger root ball than modern varieties and better access to soil nutrients.
Mark Reynier, Waterford Distillery Founder and CEO explains, “malt whisky gets its flavor, its complexity, from barley. Over time, this inherent flavor has been compromised as distilleries prioritized yield. However, because Waterford Whisky is agricultural produce not a manufactured product, we took the step to resurrect iconic yet forgotten barley varieties. In doing so, we have been able to uncover remarkable insight into what whisky would have tasted like decades ago.”
“Our ultimate aim is to identify the most flavor-expressive genes from these legendary barley varieties and cross them with modern breeds, so they have more agronomic potential. This will give us a ‘greatest hits’ of barley flavors and the ultimate variety for the most intense and naturally flavorsome whiskies,” says Mark.
Costing three times as much as regular barley, Hunter seeds were upscaled from 50 grams into enough barley to produce 50 barrels from the first harvest. Waterford Distillery then extracted spirit from two other long-forgotten heritage varieties, Goldthorpe and Old Irish, to create a run of 10,000 bottles being released globally with 1,000 bottles available in the U.S.
The Heritage Hunter is matured in a combination of 45% first-fill U.S. oak; 19% virgin U.S. oak; 21% Premium French oak; and 15% Vin Doux Naturel.
GSN’s Remarks: A darker flavor than a typical Irish. You can almost taste the soil. There is a soft salinity along with some tannic, bitterness on the finish, creating a dry mouthfeel. The body is light and elegant. Overall, there are some soft baking spices here including cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, but these really only come out towards the end. We find it interesting that one of the agings used casks previously resting French sweet wine. It doesn’t come through like you might expect, but rather lightens the barley character. Overall, a very unique and successful release. GSN Rating: A
For more information go to: Waterford Whiskey