An excellent revival of a historic Arcadian growing and malting tradition .The future of traditions long thought lost and revived and given the attention and care they deserve. An excellent gateway Irish malt for both novices and the jaded among us.
Notes: Probably the largest collection of Irish Whiskey expressions you have never heard of, and capturing the high ground of premium, single malt, single-origin, and certainly organic and biodynamic whiskies in the world! This is one of the many expressions that Waterford Distillery makes. I have to admire the absolutely obsessive, possibly pathologically OCD in a charming way, that this group goes about making whisky. Using biodynamic techniques with heirloom barley varieties they seem they seem to have obsessively thought out every other aspect of distillation, aging, cask wood aging, and every other possible point to produce a stunning whisky. One of the more interesting aspects is the careful selection of a variety of casks used in the aging process, a mix of virgin American Oak, French Chateau Lafite Rothschild, and Sherry cask, and the percentages used in the final blending. This particular expression from Waterford may take a little explanation for those not entirely familiar with geeky whisky terminology. Also in order to fully grok this whiskey, one needs to embark on a deep dive into Irish Peating of whiskey and what makes it unique.
While most people ( at least among those who read Spirits Review, are familiar with Scotch Whisky being peated and indeed expecting it for the most part, a lot of people are not familiar with the fact that historically, Irish whiskey was also peated. Peat was used as a source of heat in both countries since time immemorial and was used to dry (kiln) sprouting barley as part of its journey to making whiskey. It was only recently that Irish whiskey was no longer peated as a matter of course. There are a number of reasons for this. An excellent discussion on all this can be found here. Short form – it fell out of style as Irish Whiskey got farther and farther from its historical roots and into the hands of industrialists who wanted to make a cheaper and simpler ( read bland and inoffensive) product they could produce cheaply and in quantity. Waterford Cuvee Fumo is a return to Irish Whiskey historical, Arcadian roots.
Coming in at 55 PPM using Irish Peat ( a different animal as it were from Scottish Peat), it is not the heaviest PPM ( parts per million) out there – nor should it be! An excellent article on Peat and Smoke can be found here by Whiskey and Wisdom, by the way.
Like hot sauces that boast Scoville Heat Units over taste and balance for the sake of bragging rights, smoke should be all about complexity, harmony, and balance of flavor. This whiskey achieves it all.
And here is our other lead in on their whiskies and some attempts at explaining what makes them unique among Irish whiskies;
Single Malt as it is usually understood to be, and the numerous examples of such that make it so (such as the numerous and famous Single malt Scotch whiskies such as Lagavulin, The Macallan, Balvenie, etc., etc.) are relatively simple blends of multiple barrels from a single distillery. Each barrel, due to numerous, sometimes inscrutable factors, is somewhat different from each other but is at least somewhat homogenous to a certain degree – in that they are pretty much the same type of barrel stock, usually from the same sources and other factors limiting the spread of differences to a manageable and reproducible range. This is so they can reliably produce a single malt that is technically a blend of barrels but tastes the same to a great degree. This is, of course, the industry standard, but it is usually ( try almost always) a very closely guarded secret as to the makeup of the blend. This is not the case with Waterford Distillery, which is easily the most transparent and informative distillery in the entire whiskey industry.
Why, may you ask, is this important?
It allows an unparalleled window into the craft of whiskey making and all the subtle variations and possibilities that lead to the ultimate synthesis of a whiskey. Every variable and decision, from the origin of the grain to the multitude of steps involved in the cultivation, milling preparation, fermentation, distillation, and aging of a whiskey, are detailed and give an unparalleled behind-the-scenes account of how a whiskey comes to be.
Appearance: Clear, light gold/tan, the color of barley straw.
First Impression: Delicate peat smoke – Somewhat different from the more phenolic maritime Scottish peat – almost more Canadian – less heather and phenol/iodine, and slightly more fibrous/woody. Notes of barley malt, drying yet undercurrents of sweet, Erimore Flake tobacco, tar, volcanic minerality, calvados apples, fig, and touches of oak wood.
Taste: Smoke, char, leather, tobacco, and touches of dark fruit sweetness intermingled with marzipan/gelignite.Toasted barley and charred oak staves with a volcanic and slightly alkali mineral backstop.
Drinks: It makes a number of good Irish whiskey cocktails and cocktails calling for peated scotch whisky. It is also excellent on its own or with a cigar.
Bottle: As usual with this company, a beautiful damn bottle! A deep cobalt blue, slight inset for the label with a series of ridges toward the bottom gives it a sort of machine age or maybe deco overtones. The labels are a combination of silk screening and paper labels with a rather simple and elegant label design using embossed cobalt blue type on the narrow above label and silver grey lettering on the main label. Above this is “Waterford” silk-screened directly on the bottle itself. The back label is a single piece of plastic film with 9-point ( ?) lettering. The label contains a short narrative, the growers’ names, and the Teirreoir code, which links to an exhaustive and lovingly detailed genealogy of your bottle. Also, the names of the growers of the barley and a notation about the peat smoke PPM (55 PPM). The stopper is a smoke-grey glass stopper with a tightly rigid nylon gasket that gives a great seal without being too much of a challenge to open. and a Sigil ( Same as on the front label – see above) The Glass stopper is a tight seal to protect the contents but well engineered enough for an easy opening ( something that a number of bottles have yet to master). Overall, it is a very carefully thought-out and executed repository for a remarkable spirit.
Other: Nice balance of peat smoke to grain. At 55 PPM it is fairly heavy but not overwhelming.While not for everyone, it is an outstanding Irish Whiskey for people who like their barley with a side of peat.
Final Thoughts: This is an interesting and excellent departure from their usual range and an outstanding achievement in bringing back an almost lost form of Irish whiskey. Others have preceded them, but none have done as delicate a treatment.
More information than most people would ever want on this particular expression with all the details, maps, videos, soil cutaways, and sound clips – all the wealth of information that makes Waterford and their whiskies singular standouts and achievements in details, artistry, and not a little magic.