Spirits in focus: Waterford’s inaugural Heritage Hunter whisky
Mark Reynier, founder and CEO of Ireland’s Waterford distillery turned 50g of heritage barley into 50 barrels of whisky. The release of “Heritage Hunter – Edition 1.1” resurrects a rare variety first introduced in 1959 but not used in production since the 1970s as farming prioritised yield. It is part of Waterford’s Arcadian Farm Origins series which utilises the best of modern technology to identify historic flavours and bring them back to life for today’s single malt connoisseurs…
What does the Hunter variety look like, and how does it behave in terms of cultivation?
Visually it looks darker in colour when in the field just before harvest. Its head is short, and the grain size is smaller than more modern varieties. It stands a little taller than modern varieties, but not as tall as the far older varieties like Old Irish or Spratt Archer.
Is it notably more drought resistant than other strains?
As it happens, it is – the fact that it has longer roots than modern varieties means that it can make better use of moisture availability in the soil further down. These longer roots are also one reason why our biodynamic growers have now adopted this variety – to make better use of a richer soil full stop.
From where does the Hunter variety get its name?
It was named after Dr. Herbert Hunter, a pioneering barley breeder who revolutionised the malting industry in the early part of the 20th Century. Though he heard about being honoured by this variety, sadly he died just before it was grown and harvested.
Noting it costs threefold compared to “normal” barley to plant, is the resulting whisky going to cost 300% more than other Waterford releases?
Though technically our rarest release to date – a rarity based on a true scarcity of this raw material, and which we only yielded 50 barrels after starting out with 50 grams of seed – we are releasing it at what we believe is a fair price because we actually want people to open and taste our whiskies, to debate, to compare and contrast.
How much of the 10,000 bottles will be allocated to the UK market?
Approximately 500 have made their way to the UK. This is a genuine rarity due to the scarcity of raw materials.
What does the whisky taste like?
This is undeniably different to our other Waterford Whiskies. Head Distiller, Ned Gahan explains that it has a far more intense expression of barley, with slightly earthier flavours and a distinct nuttiness.
How is Waterford adapting to the rising cost of energy?
There is no denying that distillers are suffering right now – it isn’t just energy, but all raw materials, from barley to wood are having an impact on all industries and supply chains across the country and further afield. We’re in a good position having distilled nearly a million litres of spirit each year since the get-go, but I hope that energy prices will stabilise, barrel costs will calm down, shorter lead times for dry goods and faster shipping.
What are your hopes for the coming year?
We have released a good number of intriguing bottlings recently, so the next year will see all of us, myself included, evangelise and explain our bottlings to curious drinkers across the world – for we have a real education task on our hands.
Tasting Notes by Ned Gahan, Head Distiller, Waterford:
The Heritage Hunter is matured in a combination of 45% first-fill US oak; 19% virgin US oak; 21% Premium French oak; and 15% Vin Doux Naturel.
Colour: pale gold with unctuous oils.
Nose: earthy, dry soil, lemon sherbet, red apple skin, dry bark, barnyard, petrichor, rolled barley, baked salt, chalk.
Taste: orange cake, dry savoury spice, cloves, porridge with prunes, wood char, citrus oils. A dry, green finish with a gentle spice.
Waterford Heritage Hunter – Edition 1.1 is distributed by Speciality Brands and is retailed by thewhiskyworld.com (£94.90)
For more information, visit waterfordwhisky.com