Waterford Distillery: An inside look at the revolution in Irish whiskey

With only two distilleries responsible for all the world’s Irish whiskey for much of the second half of the 20th century, the category as a whole was seen as dull and homogeneous. Now it’s been reborn, and one of the projects spearheading Irish whiskey’s next generation is the wildly innovative and ambitious Waterford Distillery. Founded by Mark Reynier in 2014, the distillery’s raison d’être can be summed up in a single word – terroir – though fully grasping what that means for whiskey, and how that’s put into place, is far more complex.

By and large, barley used in the production of whiskey has been considered mere fodder. The higher the yield and the greater the consistency, the better, while factors such as barley variety, flavors and region of origin are ignored. For Reynier, it’s a staggering failure and oversight.

Reynier began exploring such concepts when he bought and resuscitated Bruichladdich, a Scotch distillery on Islay, in 2000. With Waterford though, he’s created an entire purpose-built operation from the ground up, all in the name of that magic word – terroir.

Consider that Waterford works with 40 farmers in a given year, and altogether has worked with a total of 72, including a number of organic farms and even a handful of biodynamic ones. Each farmer grows a particular type of barley – over a dozen have been used – and represents a different type of soil – 19 so far – each producing approximately 100 tons of grain to be malted.

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