Waterford Distillery prepares to bottle whisky made from biodynamic barley

Ireland’s Waterford Distillery has confirmed that its Biodynamic: Luna – which it claims is the first whisky anywhere in the world to go on sale made from solely biodynamic barley – will be bottled this summer.

The whisky, which is the vision of chief executive Mark Reynier, has been in development for several years. It will be the second instalment in Waterford Whisky’s Arcadian series, which investigates how historic farming and growing techniques impact the flavour of whisky. The first instalment, Organic: Gaia 1.1, was released last year to critical acclaim.

Waterford Whisky has distilled around 500 barrels of spirit made from local biodynamic barley, and annually incorporates biodynamics as part of its ongoing ambition to create the most flavoursome spirit possible.

Biodynamic: Luna’s arrival will be the culmination of Reynier's project to bring biodynamics out of the wine world and into whisky, which has required three Irish growers – Trevor Harris, John McDonnell and Alan Mooney – to apply biodynamic agricultural practices to barley.

An advanced and esoteric form of farming, often described as "uber-organic" or "organic plus", the principles of biodynamic farming were first discussed in a series of agricultural lectures by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1924. They assume that each farm is its own self-sustaining organism and that elements including soil, crops, animals, people and the ‘spirit of place’ are all interconnected.

The approach includes some noteworthy methods that Waterford Distillery’s local growers have adopted for the production of biodynamic barley. They include: burying cow horns filled with manure or mineral silica under the soil during the winter or summer months respectively, ploughing fields with horses rather than mechanical machinery, and sowing barley seeds according to the position of the moon.

The purpose of all the elements combined is to produce the healthiest possible soil and thus crops - the ultimate regenerative agriculture. When applied to barley, the very source of malt whisky's complex flavour, the Waterford Whisky team believes it will contribute to a more flavoursome whisky.

Reynier – who spent more than 20 years in the winemaking industry before another 20 in whisky – said: “Many of the world’s very greatest winemakers follow biodynamic farming to produce the most exquisite flavours. The Burgundian legends Romanée Conti, Leroy, Leflaive, Trapet and Sauzet. Alsacians Zind Humbrecht, Ostertag and Zusselin; And the mighty chateaux of Latour, Lafite, Yquem, Climens, Pontet Canet, Angelus, Palmer from Bordeaux.

“But nobody has released a whisky made from purely locally-grown biodynamic barley – until now.

“Malt whisky already is the most complex spirit in the world thanks to the barley from which it is distilled, and with a biodynamic cultivation regime there is the ultimate opportunity to enhance its flavour. At Waterford, we are on a mission to create the most complex, unique and profound whisky, and biodynamics is the next step on that journey. It makes little  financial sense, but for taste – for taste alone – it is the holy grail. Simply put: the healthiest possible soil equals the best possible flavour.”

The influence of biodynamics on the life and structure of the soil is undeniable: a recent study by Professor Magali Delmas at UCLA analysed tasting scores given to more than 128,000 French wines from 1995 to 2015 finding that biodynamic wines scored 11.8 points more compared to conventional or sustainable wines.

Unlike other whisky producers, Waterford Distillery’s credentials are built on the demonstrated concept of terroir, in which factors such as weather, soil and microclimate influence the flavours found in crops and the products made from them. A distillery-led academic study, published in peer-review journal Foods earlier this year, revealed conclusive evidence that terroir is found in barley and whisky. 

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