Waterford - Interview with Mark Reynair

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An Interview With Mark Reynier, The Force Behind Waterford Whisky

0The Cuvée Concept series from Waterford Whisky, a peated whisky, Cuvée Fumo, Waterford Cuvée "Koff", and the organic Cuvée Gaia.

From its birth almost a decade ago, Waterford Whisky and its founder, Mark Reynier, have grabbed the whisky world’s attention. Designed to go against the status quo, Waterford Whisky has made it its mission to open the public's eyes to what has been lost to drinkers by industry consolidation over the last century. Housed inside a converted Guinness Brewery in Ireland, its whiskies have garnered numerous accolades and awards since the first bottles were released in 2020.

That is due to the distillery's passionate focus on something rarely heard in the whisky world: terroir. Its single-farm-originated whiskies introduce drinkers to the nuances imparted in whisky due to barley, much like the differences found in different lots of grapes in the wine world. Working with roughly thirty-five small family farms a year, they produce distinct, highly sought-after bottles with a TÉIREOIR code on the back that provides a deep dive into everything associated with their whisky.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Reynier has quietly ramped up the next major phase for Waterford Whisky, cuvée bottlings, yet another idea appropriated from the wine world. We jumped on a call with the ever-energetic and outspoken Reynier from his home in Ireland to discuss where Waterford is heading and why he refuses to toe the line; his responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

You have been outspoken about your desire to change the discussion around whisky and why terroir exists in whisky. Why should drinkers care?

Waterford is what whisky used to be; it was regional and local, not this product put out by massive distillers that steamrolls its innate individuality. As drinkers, we have forgotten what whisky can be, and I feel it’s my duty to refuse to contribute to the madness.

The initial phase of Waterford Whisky has been focused on explaining terroir and why it matters. Our single-farm origin whiskies are building blocks that show drinkers how remarkably different barley can be from one farm to another. Much like grapes from various plots in a vineyard can produce extraordinarily different wines, barley can, too.Waterford Whisky founder Mark Reynier.

Rarely do you hear barley discussed when it comes to whisky; why is it so important?

Nobody wants to talk about where the whisky flavor comes from for some reason. They're quite happy to talk about finish this and finish that, but what about the beginning? What about where whisky's flavor actually starts, the barley?

So many people tell me that whiskey's flavor comes from the wood. That's bollocks, 100% of it comes from the barley. The barley goes into the distillation that moves into the barrel. And yes, the barrels are like an osmotic membrane, allowing those barley-derived flavor compounds to change thanks to microoxygenation through the wood over time. If the barrel's not completely buggered or exhausted, in which case you have to finish it. Instead of being some laudable thing, finishing is actually the remedial lipstick on a pig.

But it's the barley, with its over 2,000 flavor compounds, that imparts everything into a whisky. Without it, nothing happens.

Everything about Waterford seems to go against the established status quo, yet you are succeeding; what's your secret?

From the very beginning, I said we would not try to deceive drinkers with marketing gimmicks. Instead, we offer them the truth. We don't have any of these silly titles for our team. Ned is our head distiller, and Neil is our head brewer. There is no master this or master that; they are just what they are.

Now, no other distillery has a brewer, but that's not a gimmick; it's just that important to us. It's part of why we set up shop in a very modern brewery that Guinness had built. It has everything a super modern winery would have that you never get in a distillery.

Thanks to the brewing technology at our facility when we purchased it, we've turned the whole brewing process of distilling upside down. It gives us anaerobic milling, so we preserve all that barley aroma and all that terroir flavor. Then, we pneumatically press it just like grapes to extract every drop from it. Then, we temperature-control it for eight days to give us the intensity of flavor. That also gives us a secondary malolactic fermentation, which in the spirit world, no one's ever done.

So, when you taste any of our watered whiskies, it's complete. You get the barley bouquet, thanks to anaerobic milling; you get the terroir intensity and the creamy middle, thanks to the malolactic fermentation. And then you get that wonderful unctuous, oily, rich, round mouth feel because we go low and slow with the distillation. Distilling is the easy bit. I brought the stills with me from Scotland. We sort of distill it the Scottish way, double distillation only in Scottish stills with malted barley.

You have moved into releasing cuvées, which drinkers don't associate with whisky. Where are you heading with that?

My plan is this. We've introduced drinkers to terroir in whisky; now, let's move to the next phase. Now we bring all of these individual whiskies together and create some mind fuckery. That's always been the whole purpose of this project. We have over 110 maturing single-farm whisky's that we can use as building blocks to create some fantastic one-of-a-kind cuvée whisky.

Look, everything I am doing I stole from modern winemaking. I always revered how the top French winemakers made their cuvées by expertly blending different terroirs. They accept what nature gives them to make something incredible. I am doing the same thing with my single-farm whiskeys, creating blends that hopefully blow people's minds.

Our newest cuvées focus on three distinct areas. Our Organic Cuvée Gaia seeks to highlight the flavors you can find working with biodynamic barley. Our Peated Cuvée Fumo is the first true peated Irish whisky in over 100 years. It's a blend of four whiskies using nothing but true Irish ingredients. Our flagship Waterford Cuvée Koffi is the pinnacle of our skills to this date. It's an amazing blend of 24 different building block whiskies, the youngest one being six years old, that is layered and complex.

I look forward to releasing a few new cuvées yearly as our stocks age and the ingredients improve. This is what whisky is and should be: a testament to the land.


This article originally appeared here

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