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Waterford Releases First (Modern) Organic Irish Whiskey

Waterford distillery, the Irish whiskey maker focused on “barley-forward, terroir-driven” expressions, has released the first organic Irish whiskey. Organic: Gaia 1.1 was distilled in 2016 from 100% organic Irish-grown barley. The new release is part of the distillery’s Arcadian Series, “which celebrates radical growers and alternative philosophies, including heritage grains and unusual growing methods,” according to them.

Waterford’s core philosophy is simple: the key ingredient in whiskey is barley. All the components consumers tend to focus on–barrels, water, stills–are, they say, secondary to the creation of the world’s most complex spirit. “It beggars belief that much of the industry treats with indifference the primary source of single malt whisky’s extraordinary flavour: barley,” said Waterford founder and CEO Mark Reynier in a prepared statement. “We have placed barley – where and how it is grown – at the heart of what we do, curious about where the real whisky flavour may be found.”

Waterford Organic: Gaia 1.1
Waterford Organic: Gaia 1.1 (image via Waterford)

In existing releases, the distillery’s focus has largely been on single-farm expressions; the company says organically grown barley is a natural extension of that philosophy. “Compliance for organic status is not straight forward by any means – there’ s a shed load of hoops to jump through, deep cleaning regimens, audits and assessments to undergo,” said Reynier. “So, is it worth it?  We certainly think so, what we lose in yield and hair pulling we gain in purity and definition of flavor.”

Although a century ago, organically grown malting barley would have been ubiquitous (the company is careful to note that this whisky is only the first organic expression “in the modern age”), today it is fairly hard to come by. That means that unlike previous expressions, the grain in Gaia 1.1 comes from multiple farms, though according to the distillery’s website, organic single-farm releases are in the cards in the years to come.

As to the whiskey itself, it’s been matured in a range of different barrels: 42% first-fill US oak, 17% virgin US oak, 23% premium French oak and 18% Vin Doux Naturel, or sweet fortified wine. It is bottled un-chill-filtered and additive-free at 50% ABV and is retailing around $110, with 6,000 bottles available in the US.

Katelyn Best

Katelyn is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon. She's a regular contributor to the Whiskey Wash with an affinity for the unique and weird side of whiskey.

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