Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Waterford Whisky. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Waterford Whisky was founded by a team led by Mark Raynier, the wine broker who previously resurrected the then-mothballed Bruichladdich Distillery. Bruichladdich was eventually sold to Rémy Cointreau, but Mark apparently still had another whisky project in him—and this one took him across the water to Ireland, where he launched Waterford Whisky in Waterford, Ireland, in 2015.
Where Bruichladdich is romantically nostalgic, Waterford is high-tech. The distillery–which the brand calls its “Facilitator,” in an unusual application of corporate HR-jargon–was built inside a former Guinness brewery originally constructed in 2003. Hard to imagine a better spot for a malt whisky distillery. It’s still kitted out with all Guinness’ fancy brewing gear, including a hydromill that mills malt underwater for better hydration and a massive fermentation room that would be a great set for the climax of an ‘80s action flick. The two pot stills, however, are historic, reclaimed from the Inverleven Distillery after it was mothballed.
Waterford is hyper-focused on provenance and terroir (or tēireoir, according to the Gaelic spelling the brand prefers), sourcing barley from nearly 100 different farms. A storage facility designed to keep individual lots of barley separate enables their explorations of provenance-specific flavor, including farm-specific releases. They’re also keen supporters of alternative farming practices, including organic and biodynamically grown barley.
The result is a host of specific, “barley-forward” bottlings designed to showcase the subtle variations in flavor resulting from barley provenance. This review focuses on Waterford’s flagship The Cuvée release, which is a blend of 25 different individually distilled single farm origin whiskies. It was aged four years and five months in a combination of first-fill American oak, virgin American oak, French oak, and sweet wine casks, then bottled at 50% ABV without chill filtration or artificial coloring.
“We have celebrated and explored the singles,” writes Waterford on their website. “Now we produce our more immersive concept album.” And there is something about Waterford that feels more like an art project than anything else. Perhaps it’s the code on the back of this bottle that leads to a website with additional information, including a list of all of the barley varieties and the farms where they were grown, as well as a 14-minute Soundcloud recording of the industrial sounds of the Facilitator at work. “Cool harsh noise album,” my husband said approvingly after he hit play.
Tasting Notes: Waterford The Cuvée
Vital Stats: Irish single malt whisky. 50% ABV/100 proof. Aged four years, five months, in a combination of first-fill and virgin American oak, French oak, and sweet wine casks. Barley sourced from 25 different farms. Natural color, non-chill-filtered. Pricing around $100.
Appearance: Pale gold
Nose: A lovely combination of pastry cream, darkly toasted bread, cracked black pepper, dried apricots, and a rich assortment of grassy-green aromas like kiwi, tomatillo, cut grass, and tomato leaf. There’s also a roasty undertone, verging on burnt, that gives it a bit of meatiness as well as a touch of rubber.
Palate: Full, rich, oily, and salty, with toasted bread, buttery oatmeal, dark honey, and marmalade. The finish brings citric tartness and a peanut flavor I associate with young malt whisky as well as warm hay and a slight industrial cast, like hot metal. Water makes it even sweeter, with nougat and fruit coming to the fore.
Drinking this whisky is a little like watching a talented young musician at their first public performance. Half of the pleasure is imagining what the future might hold. The Cuvée still tastes quite young, although I think that style works for a whisky concerned more with the primary flavor of the grain than the secondary flavors of maturation. Still, I think we’ve got substantial evolution to look forward to.
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Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...