It’s been a while since Waterford featured on these pages. Just over a year. But since they’ve just released another milestone expression, I figured it is high time to dive back in. I’m of course talking about the Waterford Heritage: Hunter, part of Waterford’s Arcadian Farm Origin range.
There’s a lot to write here, but honestly, my work has been done by the excellent content team at Waterford. I’ll quickly give you some details on the Waterford Heritage: Hunter and what makes it so special, but I’ll link to longer articles along the way.
As you’d expect from Waterford, it’s the barley that makes Heritage: Hunter stand out. But in this particular case it is not all about terroir. It’s also not NOT about terroir, but there’s simply even more to the story of the Waterford Heritage: Hunter. It’s in the name really.
Waterford Heritage: Hunter is made from a rare barley variety that was first introduced in 1959. It was named after plant breeder Dr Herbert Hunter, but was supplanted within two decades by more yield-enhancing varieties. While it was gone from the fields of Ireland, it wasn’t lost.
All that was left of Hunter was a 50 gram pack kept by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This was upscaled over several harvests until Waterford Distillery had enough to produce 50 barrels. According to the distillery, Waterford Heritage: Hunter was developed purely for the curiosity of flavour.
But there were some apparent environmental benefits also. 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 further:
“Malt whisky gets its flavour, its complexity, from barley. Over time, this inherent flavour has been compromised as distilleries prioritised 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 flavour-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 flavours and the ultimate variety for the most intense and naturally flavoursome whiskies.”
Waterford Heritage Hunter (50%, OB, 2022)
Nose: Minerals and ozone mixed in with prominent cereal notes, dried barley, birch, lemon drizzle cake and warm apple sauce. There’s just a hint of rhubarb and pear eau-de-vie. I always try to stay as objective as possible, but whisky is emotion too, and this is it for me. Taste: Proper oily mouthfeel with a somewhat spicy arrival (cloves), accompanied by banana sweets, freshly cut pears (no skin), lime peels and honeyed porridge. Also earthy, chalky and slightly drying. Finish: Hints of orris root, damp leaves and oak spices. And notes of pear. Medium in length.
Waterford makes singular whiskies anyway, and I can't help but feel the heritage barley variety has elevated this expression's uniqueness. The texture is everything you could hope for. The depth and balance are properly good too. And it has a soul. I tried the Waterford Heritage Hunter at a festival first, then during a tasting led by Mark Reynier, and now at home from my own bottle. Colour me convinced.