waterford distillery 1st cuvee

Waterford 1st Cuvée Pilgrimage (2020)

In my blog post about the first two Waterford Single Farm Origin, I talked about the birth of a distillery. Originally, that birth was supposed to be commemorated with the whisky I’m reviewing today, but obviously the world had other ideas.

The Waterford 1st Cuvée was scheduled to be released in late April during a festive day at the distillery baptised as the Pilgrimage. Had all gone to plan, it would’ve been the inaugural whisky of Waterford, Mark Reynier’s inimitable terroir whisky project. And I suppose it still is; it was bottled first after all. But circumstances decided it wasn’t the first Waterford whisky to hit the market.

Now I’ve been following Waterford Distillery for a while. From a distance at first and then finally visiting in early 2017. I’ve written about them on my blog, for international websites and Dutch magazines. I’ve been fortunate to talk to Mark Reynier at length a few times and have head distiller Ned Gahan show me around the complex — and take me into his tasting room in the bowels of the distillery.

Does that mean “I made it happen”? I don’t think so. That designation is reserved for the people that had a direct hand in making and distributing the whisky. And yet, just last week a special edition of the Waterford 1st Cuvée was delivered on my doorstep. One that said that I indeed had “made it happen”. I’m not sure I agree, but I’m very grateful for the gesture.

In total 1,500 bottles of the Waterford 1st Cuvée were released: 1,000 to the public that said “The First”, and 500 that were shared “with staff, shareholders, colleagues and very good friends who helped us along the way” — at least one of which went to Hengelo, The Netherlands.

So far Waterford Distillery has released a range of Single Farm Origin bottlings, but the 1st Cuvée is markedly different. Think of it as glimpse into the future of the distillery, when layer upon layer of single farm whisky is supposed to compose the “most profound single malt whisky in the world”, per Mark Reynier.

The Waterford 1st Cuvée is made up of 36 farms that were distilled in 2016, the first full year of production at the distillery. All but three of these have matured in 35 litre so-called blood tubs, neatly tucked away somewhere in the distillery. These were made from ex-bourbon oak. For a full list of what went into the 1st Cuvée, read this.

And now, let’s taste what is the most anticipated release of 2020 (for me at least)…

Waterford 1st Cuvée (50%, OB, 1500 bts.)

Nose: Complexity is what I’m looking for — and getting. Lots of vanilla sweetness, but also luscious red forest fruits and fragrant floral notes, all supported by a touch of almonds, milk chocolate and sugared cereals. There’s something new here each time. Now stone fruits like nectarines begin to assert their influence, with just a touch of beeswax. Fascinating doesn’t begin to describe this.
Taste: A sweet arrival and a great oily, chewy mouthfeel. It is a tad dry, but never too much. Plenty of red fruits again, accompanied by port stewed pears and pear skin. Touches of honey, caramel and milk chocolate. Very rich and rewarding.
Finish: More of the above, but now also slightly grassy. Medium in length.

Score: 90

Thank God this is good—really good actually. I wouldn’t have known what to do had I disliked it. I’ve been looking forward to this moment for so long; it would’ve been a massive disappointment hadn’t it lived up to expectations. But what were those expectations? I know better than to bank on a 3-year-old whisky such as this to deliver a life-altering experience. Then again, I won’t soon forget this whisky either.

The level of balance achieved is remarkable. How is this not just 95% oak after over three years of maturation in 35 litre blood tubs? The 1st Cuvée is one of the most more-ish whiskies I’ve had in a long while. I really want to savour my bottle—and I will—but it will take a lot of willpower.

If there’s one bit of critique, it’s this: I’m not sure if the 1st Cuvée is entirely representative of what to expect from Waterford Distillery in the future. The small blood tubs have a type of influence that I believe will be hard to replicate with larger casks. I might be wrong though. Actually, I really hope I am.

Whisky provided by Waterford Distillery

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