Irish whisky maverick Waterford has done it again. The team has launched what it claims to be “the world’s first biodynamic whisky.” It’s called Waterford Biodynamic Luna and it has just landed at MoM towers.
It’s been quite a week for biodynamics and whisky. On Wednesday we heard that Bruichladdich had released what it’s calling The Biodynamic Project, but Waterford got in first with Biodynamic Luna. When we met with Waterford supremo Mark Reynier back in September he gave us a little to try. We’ll let you know our thoughts later.
What is biodynamics?
But first, what is biodynamics? It’s a system of agriculture developed by an Austrian writer, thinker, and, some say, crank, called Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925). If that name sounds family, it’s because he also invented Steiner schools. Clearly, he was a man for all seasons.
Despite knowing nothing about vines and being a teetotaller, Steiner’s teachings have become particularly popular among winemakers as CEO of Waterford, Mark Reynier, explains: “During the 1980s in the vineyards of Burgundy and Alsace, following decades of agro-chemical excess and the race for yield over quality, I witnessed the renaissance of terroir and modern winemaking. Out of this, biodynamics blossomed – a new philosophy that at first seemed outlandish, but after tasting the results increasingly proved its worth”.
He continues: “Biodynamics is, after all, merely a self-contained farming system, but one that consists of the culmination of 16,000 years of agricultural optimisation – trial and error, life and death – before the vicissitudes of industrialisation and intensification dumbed down individuality. During my career I’ve had the fortune to taste the world’s greatest wines, it’s no surprise to see the ever-increasing adoption of biodynamics in the search for intensity and purity of flavour. If for the grape, why not the grain?” Why not indeed.
Just add mystical thinking
Biodynamics is usually described as organics plus but that is to do it a disservice because there’s a strong spiritual element involved in Steiner’s teaching. So as well as using organic rather than synthetic fertilizers etc. there’s stuff about making homeopathic teas as treatments for vines, burying cow horns in the ground, and doing things according to phases of the moon. Hence the name of Waterford’s latest whisky.
Not only do preparations have to have the right homeopathic ingredients, they need to be made on the right day with the right “rhythm.” This is from the biodynamic organisation Demeter’s handbook: “Stirring is done with small amounts of preparations and at certain rhythms, which is why working with the preparations is also called homeopathy for the soil.”
So is it nonsense?
In many ways, biodynamics has more in common with pagan rituals than with scientific agriculture. The governing body, Demeter, is after all the Greek goddess of agriculture. The jury is still out on whether it makes any difference above conventional organic or near-organic farming methods (There’s an interesting article here looking at the pseudoscience behind the movement). But some of the top estates in France such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy, Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace and Pontet-Canet in Bordeaux are fully biodynamic.
It’s not clear how biodynamics works, or even if it works at all compared with conventional organic farming. There is a theory, however, that biodynamics attracts obsessives and makes them more obsessive in the care they lavish on their crops, so even though much of it makes no scientific sense, it leads to results.
Anyway back to Waterford Luna. The biodynamic barley in question comes from three Irish growers, Trevor Harris, John McDonnell, and Alan Mooney, who all have biodynamically accredited farmland. Following harvesting, it was malted, fermented and distilled in the usual Waterford way before ageing in 35% first-fill US oak, 17% virgin US oak, 26% French oak, and 22% vin doux naturel oak. It was bottled at 50% ABV.
So can I taste an extra “intensity and purity of flavour”? Not really. But it is certainly distinctive with a super spicy rye-like quality, and easily the equal of the other Waterford whiskies I have tried ie. very high quality. Whether you buy biodynamics or not, it’s worth your time and money.
Waterford Biodynamic Luna is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.
Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt
Nose: Super spicy, almost like a rye whisky. There’s cinnamon, cardamom and freshly-baked rye bread, with apples, peaches and apricots.
Palate: It’s alive with spice: black pepper, cinnamon and ginger. Then creamy, almost cream cheese notes, pastry, vanilla and sugared almonds with orchard fruits.
Finish: Those amazing aromatics linger mingled with creamy custard. Very long.