Ever since I tried some of Waterford’s biodynamic spirit just over two years ago, the Waterford Luna 1.1 Biodynamic has been this distillery’s release I’ve been looking forward to most. It should pretty much the steroid version of Waterford’s terroir philosophy.
If terroir is what you’re claiming to focus on, than you have to at least dabble in organic and biodynamic farming. Bruichladdich has done it—and I’ve actually tasted their biodynamic whisky too—but has yet to release any. Waterford is the first distillery to bring whisky made from biodynamically grown barley to market. In that sense their Luna 1.1 is truly revolutionary.
What Is Biodynamics?
Biodynamics was developed in 1924 by Dr Rudolph Steiner. At first glance you might think it is some black magic, esoteric type practice. The methodology includes packing dung into cow horn and burying it, only to later dig it up and use it as root-stimulating spray. It also involves scattering the ashes of burned pests or weeds to avert pest problems in the future.
However, there’s much more to it. In principle, biodynamics is about being in tune with nature. For instance, biodynamic farmers consider the impact of the phase of the moon for when it’s best to plant seeds. I know that doesn’t make it sound any less unconventional. But what’s most important is that it’s always done from a philosophy of sustainability. In the end biodynamics is all about a healthy soil.
Biodynamic farming made a great impression on Waterford founder Mark Reynier, who spent the first two decades of his career in the wine trade. During the 1980s he witnessed the impact of biodynamics in the vineyards of Burgundy and Alsace.
If you’re skeptic about biodynamics, I don’t blame you. You’re in good company actually, because Mark used to be as well. I’ve talked to him about biodynamics at length, and this is part of what he said:
“The first time I came across biodynamics was in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine de Marcoux. I went to see this guy for the first time, and I sat in his waiting room. He stuck his head round the door and he gave me a xeroxed pamphlet—very amateur looking document. He left me alone with it, I flipped through it, and I remember thinking: ‘This is absolutely mad. This guy is basically taking the piss, he’s setting me up as a complete idiot.’
“All this sort of astral stuff, I thought it was a mockery. I was wondering what to do. Do I confront the man? Then he stuck his head rather sheepishly round the door and looked at me. He could see that I was lost. We looked at each other for a while and I suddenly realised that this guy was deadly serious. Rather than storm out in a huff, I decided to listen. He took me around the domaine and the vineyards and explained everything to me. I have to say, it registered with me immediately.“
Over three decades later Reynier finally has his own biodynamic whisky, the Waterford Luna 1.1. I was thoroughly impressed by a biodynamic cask sample I tried in 2019. It was less than a year old, but it had matured in a small blood tub cask which holds just 35 litres. Obviously that impacts maturation in a much different way than the larger casks that have been used for the Luna. But I’m nonetheless massively excited for this.
Waterford Luna 1.1 Biodynamic (50%, OB, 2021)
35% first-fill US oak; 17% virgin US oak; 26% Premium French oak; and 22% Vin Doux Naturel oak
3 years, 2 months and 1 day old
Distilled from biodynamically grown Olympus barley
Fermented for 194 hours
Grown by Trevor Harris, John McDonnell and Alan Mooney
Nose: Sort of a floral fruit basket too, if that makes sense. There’s apricots, underripe pineapple and lemon. It also has this green, agave-like element that I noticed in an early cask sample too. Finally a whiff of honey and draff, but the grain isn’t as pronounced as other Waterford I’ve tried. Taste: There’s this very faint ashiness at first, but I fail to pick it up with later sips. Also plenty of spices such as white pepper and cloves, followed by honeycomb, agave and Williams pears. Finally a touch of fennel. Finish: Slightly dry with plenty of spices and lingering orchard fruits.
It's a deviation from the Waterford that I've come to know over the past 18 months. While there are enough recognizable elements, it's this agave/greener note that really stands out in the Waterford Luna 1.1. It totally intrigues me.
It's just a little too spicy and (seemingly) immature at times for a higher rating. Also, I'm most charmed by the maltier Waterford expressions, which this isn't. I can't wait to try this at a more advanced age. But I guess I will have to.