Quality Takes Time: How Waterford Distillery Makes Irish Whiskey Using Heritage Barley

Jeff Bradford02/07/23

Jeff Bradford Youtube

It’s a simple fact that the general goal of a business is to produce as much as possible for as little as possible. The Whiskey industry is no exception. But some distillers who I’ve encountered on my travels take pride in the idea that the cheapest way is not always the best way. Here is one of their stories. 

The Waterford Distillery’s goal is to make the liter of alcohol with the most flavor – they do not care about the cost. They do this by working with a total of 100 Irish growers, around 40 a year, some organic, some biodynamic, and some heritage grains.  All of their whiskies use 100% Irish-grown barley from one farm, one terroir, at a time.

In this episode,  we focus on producing a heritage grain called Old Irish that stems back to pre-1898 and is the oldest known barley variety so far that’s indigenous to Ireland. Waterford takes this natural plant (barley) and stores it in a massive warehouse called the Cathedral. There, they sort the barley by farm and hold it until it is ready for use. The barley will stay there anywhere between three and six months before it is ready for whiskey making. One of my biggest takeaways when watching a delivery was how meticulous Waterford is when it comes to processing its barley. I learned that each barley variety requires the smallest changes, based off the malt analysis reports, will change the malting process.

Waterford takes in single farm batches of barley, which means the brewing process can be entirely different from farm to farm–and even harvest to harvest. To do this individualized process, the brewers must be constantly checking on the batch to ensure everything is running smoothly. 

When it comes time for the fermentation process, Waterford takes a low temperature (30-32 Celsius) & slow approach (up to 120 hours, which is over twice the whisky industry standard!!) to wait for another transformation to take place: malolactic fermentation. A process frequently used in red wines, malolactic fermentation transforms the harsh malic acid into a softer lactic acid, to make sure they are maximizing flavor within every bottle. This slow process gives the best chance for the unique barley batch from a particular farm to showcase its individual flavor. 

Just like everything else Waterford does, the distillation process has the sole purpose of capturing the most flavor possible. Also similar to the fermentation process, Waterford takes a slow approach to distillation. With this step, it is still quality over quantity. Waterford is also meticulous about the wood for the barrels their drinks are aged in. They have different kinds of barrels tailored to different batches and flavors. 

Quality takes time. Every part of their process is scrutinized over and done in a way to create the best product possible. In a world where it is all about fast, mass production, it is refreshing to know there is a little part of Ireland slowing down and taking the time to do things the right way.