When does a distillery really come alive? One could easily argue it is the second the first spirit flows from the stills. But that’s merely conception, not birth. I would say it’s probably the moment when the first bottling hits the market. Everything before it is a prolonged pregnancy—very important but the baby hasn’t been delivered just yet.
Just a few weeks ago, Waterford distillery finally sent out a birth announcement and like an overexcited, very distant aunt I couldn’t be more happy about it. Not just one baby, but two! They were conceived pretty much five years ago when the seeds were sowed in the fertile soil of Bannow Island and Ballykilcavan farms. Now they’re finally here—I just need to be careful not to overindulge.
Waterford Bannow Island Edition 1.1 (50%, OB, 2020)
Nose: Young, sweet, fruity spirit on a backdrop of grain. It’s this graininess (rye-like at times) that stood out when I first sniffed it straight out of the bottle and it’s still here now that I’ve got it in my glass. I’m a sucker for that type of aroma, in part because of my preference for unaged or young Schiedam malt wine genever. Enough about the graininess though. I get stone fruits (mango, nectarine) as well as tinned pineapple and raspberry syrup, with just a tinge of Jaffa Cakes. Finally some raw sugar and apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce, which all makes it sounds über sweet, but that’s not the case. It gets fruitier and more tropical over time and the graininess is al but gone now, but then has this mineral edge too. Hard to grasp, in a good way. Taste: Oily mouthfeel and a somewhat spicy arrival (white pepper, ginger, cloves), followed by some subtle tropical fruits and a caramel sweetness. It has this green, grassy effect on my taste buds as well. Little more spirit-y than the nose suggests. Finish: Dry and medium in length ending on a syrupy sweetness.
Nose: Fresh strawberries, underripe banana skin and lemon yoghurt. A faint hint of struck matches in the background, but also freshly cut grass, a few barley husks, oat cookies, vanilla pods and orange zest. Finally a touch of peach. I want to judge this on it’s own merit, but that’s difficult when tasting these side-by-side. It’s a little more austere and certainly less complex than the Bannow Island. Taste: Good mouthfeel again and a tinge of black cracked pepper corns, but that sulphur definitely makes an encore. I know some of the earlier Waterford wine casks have had some trouble with this and it seems some have made their way into this vatting. I’m sensitive to this and it takes me a while to overcome, although I’ve had FAR worse offenders. Hints of cinnamon, caramel and a touch of malt. Finish: Lingering orchard fruits (apples, stewed pears) and a subtle grassiness. Nice ending after a slightly more challenging middle. Medium to long.
The Bannow Island has a highly complex nose—it kept changing whenever I returned to it. It was almost as if I should’ve reset my tasting notes every 10 minutes or so. The palate can’t quite keep up. If it had, this would’ve been a 90+ whisky in my book. And we can’t have that. We’ve got to keep these Waterford guys on their toes and not heap ’em with too much praise early on.
Then again, that’s partly taken care of by the Ballykilcavan. It is nice enough, but clearly not on the same level as the Bannow Island. I’d usually be quick to blame the sulphur notes but it’s not just that. The Ballykilcavan simply hasn’t the same complexity and intrigue. To me at least.