One of my favorite things about the world of food and beverage is terroir.
Terroir is the French term for the environmental factors that result in different flavors, primarily in wine. The term, however, does stretch well into other categories, including beer — just ask a brewer about the same type of hops from different parts of the world.
But last week, I had a fascinating discussion with Angelita Hynes, the terroir specialist at Ireland’s Waterford Whisky.
Hynes and the company have been critical in showcasing the effects of terroir are a real thing in whiskey, an industry that has largely worked to keep flavors the same year after year.
Waterford’s products immediately struck me as unique, including a line of Single Farm Origin bottles that are made from barley grown at one farm.
Hynes spoke for nearly an hour about the incredible intricacies terroir plays within a whiskey. Each year, they sort through more than 100 farmers before picking a final 40 to highlight and offer full traceability for a curious drinker.
Along with the Single Farm Origin approach, Waterford is embarking on a large heritage project that will produce whiskies from old-style grains that fell out of fashion because of various factors, including low yield. One of the heritage barleys is Old Irish, which was a major distilling grain more than a century ago.
“The whole point of heritage is about flavor,” Hynes said. “We’re not trying to make the best whiskey in the world, we’re trying to make the most profound whiskey in the world. It takes the approach of single farm or organic a big step further of getting from 25 seeds to 120 tons.”
Terroir can vary from natural factors, like sun levels, elevation and soil composition. But farming practices can also weigh in heavily. Hynes used a great analogy to help non-terroir nerds understand the idea of terroir.
“Take twin brothers, the same genetic material born from the same parents,” she said. “Now one is brought up in Finland and one is brought up in South Africa. Those are completely different climates and diets. The hours of sun will age them differently. But also, one was brought up by the father and the other by the mother, who will have completely different parenting styles.”
Going back to the whiskey, terroir will also make whiskies from an individual farm taste different from year-to-year. That goes against the idea Chris Morris said last week about making sure every bottle of Woodford Reserve tastes the same.
At Waterford, there is a spiderweb of 15 flavors that a panel of tasters grades each batch, scoring each flavor 1 to 15. They noticed the spiderwebs from year to year are different when layered against each other. That suggests a vintage effect on the whiskey, much like those seen within wine.
It was a fascinating conversation, but unfortunately sprawled into many different directions that did not fit into the normal Q&A format. But I do highly suggest exploring the world of terroir.
Speaking of terroir
While I said Waterford is unlike anything I’d ever seen, that wasn’t quite true. I have mentioned Frey Ranch Distillery before, a cool bourbon from my time out in Nevada.
Frey Ranch prides itself for growing, distilling, maturing and bottling its products at its Fallon, Nevada, ranch.
Cool wine sustainability program
New Zealand’s Starborough, a Sauvignon Blanc wine, has partnered with Oceana, one of largest ocean conservation organizations. In August, $1 for every bottle sold will go to Oceana.
The partners, using U.S. reef builder Reefmaker, have already created more than 25 reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and the Starborough Wine Reef is available for tourists to visit underwater.
What’s Pat drinking?
On Monday, I hit up Brewery Vivant’s Stein Night with my dad. That is probably one of my favorite new promos in town. Customers can bring their own liter stein and select beers are available for $5 pours.
Also, after mowing the lawn last weekend, I grabbed Juicy Pineapple from Schofferhofer. The German brewery makes a great line of low-ABV Hefeweizen beers, and the pineapple version was incredibly tropical and refreshing.