Taste Review #123 – Waterford Bannow Island 1.2
I’ll start this review with some apologies. I’m sorry to Mr Nicoletti of Dublin, a follower of Scotty’s Drams almost from the start. I’m sorry that it has taken me so long to taste and review this whiskey.
And I’m going to continue with the apologies, as I am sure I am going to offend people from both sides of the debate regards this review. But you should really know me by now if you are a regular reader of my social media interactions – I really don’t care. If you feel the truth is offensive, then perhaps you need to review your choice of blog.
Waterford has been controversial from the start. The man at the top has been fond of courting controversy for quite some time, starting with his tenure at Bruichladdich, where the team he was at the head of successfully reinvigorated a run-down distillery which it would be fair to say had seen better days. Innovation was needed, care was given to the ingredients and their origin and it is at Bruichladdich we see the word Terroir come to the surface within the whisky world. It is something that Mark Reynier would be very familiar with given his time within the wine industry. And thanks to his vision, the distillery really went on to see better days than before, being so successful it was only a matter of time before somebody bought them out – and in July 2012 Remy Cointreau did just that.
So, with some money in his back pocket from the sale of Bruichladdich, it was time for Mark to consider his next move. I was personally not surprised when he decided to buy a former brewery in Ireland and convert it into a distillery. And this wasn’t to be any old distillery – this one was going to develop on the concept of Terroir in whisky that had been started in Bruichladdich.
Mark tells Irish Central – “For years folk have been hoodwinked on where whisky’s quality truly lies – once stills, then water, now wood. We want to shine the light on what really makes malt whisky the most complex spirit in the world,, the primary source of all that extraordinary flavour; barley.”
Terroir in drinks is not a new concept. For those of you reading this who do not know what it means, it essentially is the environmental factors that affect crop growth, and in turn will make a difference to the quality of the crop. Such factors could be the soil, the mirco-climate, the type of land the crop is grown on, how much sun it gets. This look is just a very small part of what terroir is about, just to give you an idea. The concept behind Waterford is a positive one where the barley for distilling is grown on individual farms and is used individually, thus producing a single farm origin whisky. The terroir is recorded and can be seen online if you type in your bottles ‘Teireoir’ code. Apparently thats Irish Gaelic for terroir.
Scoff all you want, entering this code in gives you access to all sorts of information about how the barley was grown and how the whisky was made, detailing all sorts of information that you desire to know about your whisky. It gives rise to another T word – transparency.
There were all sorts of arguments on whisky social media about the existence of terroir. It escalated so much that there was a couple of spats on Twitter which basically seemed precipitate the dissolution of the original Malt-Review website team. While Malt is still on the go, think of it like Glasgow Rangers Football Club. They may play under the same team name, but they are entirely different companies. (Sorry Bears, as a Dons supporter I couldn’t resist. All in jest!). There were arguments over whether or not Terroir existed, what it meant to the whisky community and would Waterford be the best single malt whisky in existence?
You can’t escape the existence of Terroir. As much as you may try to deny it, Terroir does exist and you cannot escape this. If you want a good example of this, think about the situation that you’d be in should your neighbour build an extension to his house that blocks out the sunlight from your strawberry plants. While your strawberries will still grow, they might not be as juicy and tasty as before. That my friends is terroir in action.
What we need to know is whether or not Terroir matters in whisky? One way of finding out is to drink some!
Waterford Bannow Island 1.2
Region – Irish Age – 3 Years Old Strength – 50% abv Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Dry white wine, Malt, floral notes, red berry fruit, a hint of dusty seed barn. Peach. Palate – light to medium mouth feel, slightly oily. Breakfast cereal – a sweet one at that, malt, green apple, vanilla, ginger, a tingle on the tongue but no strong spirit hit. On swallowing I got a vegetal note, leafy. Finish – Short to medium, drying like white wine, vegetal note continues, chocolate digestive at the end. Was left with a lingering burn.
With water, the alcoholic tingle on the tongue subsided as did the ginger. It led to an increase in creaminess, more vanilla notes and an increase of vegetal notes in the finish. The finish increased in length with water but was still subtle.
First things first – there are a couple of things I really detested about this whisky. While I used to think the bottling was pretty smart, things change when you get to handle the bottle in person. That stopper is bloody awkward to open compared to a standard cork. The second time I opened it, I ended up spilling a bit of whisky on myself. Not good.
Secondly – is that ribbing on that bottle really necessary? It reminded me of a product that you can get from vending machines in gentlemen’s toilets that had the selling point of being ‘For Her Pleasure.’ Somebody else mentioned this and now I cannot get it out of my mind. Can somebody please make it stop? It’s kind of putting me off. However at least it helped me get a better grip of the bottle to get that sodding awkward stopper off.
I am sure that I am going to maybe feel a slight bit of derision from my peers in whisky social media circles as I am going to say that I kind of liked this whisky. It was certainly inoffensive, tasted of whisky, albeit noticeably young spirit with a degree of complexity, but nothing stunning. I personally found it a lot better than expected, as young whisky does not mean rubbish whisky in every case. While I would happily drink this again, would I buy it? No, I wouldn’t because to my palate it wasn’t exciting enough. I’ve had some whiskies over the past year that I only managed one nip of (and it was more than I’d normally pay) but I’d give my right bollock for to taste again. Scrub that, I’ve had all the children I want, I’d give both bollocks for that Linkwood Darkness 19 year old. But not for this whisky – my testes will remain intact. It was pleasant enough to sip along with and while I’d also be interested in tasting other Waterford bottlings, this one didn’t light my fire enough to want to go out and buy them yet.
Does Terroir Matter?
And here is where I earn my hate mail. Does Terroir matter in whisky? In my opinion, not really. While this whisky is said to be terroir (barley driven), I wonder if it was released so young to make sure that the lumber that the cask was constructed of would have no discernible impact on the spirit? Smoke and mirrors perhaps? You certainly taste the barley impact, even on a palate as abused as mine, but to me it tastes of nothing special.
The kicker is for me though that to be able to discern the true impact of terroir, I’d have to taste Bannow Island 1.3 and compare it to this one. Would I be able to discern a difference? Possibly. But then to narrow it down to solely the terroir, and looking at it from an engineers perspective, everything else apart from the barley would have to be the same. The same casks in the same position in the warehouse in the same climate as the previous editions. Exactly the same yeast, the same fermentation times. Each one of these things can have an impact on the maturing spirit. Certainly thats how I fault find electronic systems, as if you change more than one thing at a time, you will never really know what had most effect on the final outcome.
And that is it – I’m not going to be buying multiple bottles of Waterford or any other whisky to see if Terroir really matters. Whisky from each brand does change over batches, however subtly and different people will pick up these changes differently and interpret them differently. At the end of the day, all they want to drink is a tasty whisky. And I suppose by drinking Waterford, many people will get just that; it’s all subjective.
But it wasn’t only ever really about Single Farm Origin (although I do think this is a laudable and interesting concept). It seems the main aim was to produce a Cuvee, a practice similar to what exists the wine industry that Mark Reynier hails from. Basically a blended whisky, but not a blend likes of Bells or Grants. It’s a vatting of whisky of all the Single Farm Origin whiskies, so in reality is no different to any other major brand which may take its barley from a variety of sources. So to me, it sort of makes the Single Farm origin a bit pointless. I suppose people go for that sort of thing, just like they do for wine, but to me it’s just another way of persuading me to continually purchase Waterford, and that ain’t happening.
The best way to purchase Waterford if you want a bargain is at auction where even first editions are selling at below RRP. At an average of around £70 to buy from a retailer, for a 50% whisky, it isn’t the worst value you could achieve. Personally for the experience I had with this one, I’d not say it’s worth £70 but that’s another individual opinion and others may have a different point of view.
I want to end this on a positive. I do like the way transparency is addressed using the Teireoir Code. That way I can see more information about my whisky. It will be good for when I have my geek moments, or if I do actually taste more Waterford and want to compare. While I have opinions about who cares about all the information; it’s whether or not the whisky tastes good but at least the information is there for you to do your own personal geek out.
Mark Reynier as I have said before often courts controversy. It’s not quite any publicity is good publicity, but it amounts to the same thing. Waterford has got people talking and whether or not you buy into the ethos behind the whisky (to me it’s a massive marketing gimmick), the spirit itself is worth trying at least once. All said and done, I think I would buy Waterford for myself, but perhaps I’ll wait and see what the older editions taste like. If they let the casks sit for more than 12 years.
Yours In Spirits
Thanks to Michele who gifted this lovely bottle. It was greatly appreciated and I sure I will get enjoyment out of it. It was a nice easy drinker, I just don’t think it deserves the hype.
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