Waterford Bannow Island and Ballykilcavan

Waterford has been sometime coming. The entire production of the distillery, and the three years wait until the whisky was released was broadcasted through various social media channels, magazines and other media on a level that is unheard of.

Normally when a new distillery is announced, the planning permission, construction commencement and first new make is made public, but the rest is generally done on the down-low. Even high profile distillery rebuilds like Port Ellen and Brora are done without much fanfare, since the announcement.

Waterford was not such a low key happening. From where I stand this is because it started with Mark Reynier starting Bruichladdich, and that being sold with his vote being against the sale. Then he went on with the search for terroir in whisky, and how Bruichladdich was run before the sale helped with making his voice very well known in the world of whisky.

I’m not going into the rather unique production process at Waterford distillery, and the construction of it, because Billy did a pretty good job at that already.

Normally I don’t read tasting notes of whiskies I’m about to review, since I don’t want to be influenced by them before I post my own findings. But, with the anticipation that happened around Waterford, it was kind of hard to be on the internet without reading anything about it since the bottles were released.

I do want to get one thing off my chest regarding these two initial regular releases (there’s another one available only in Ireland, and some other farms are indicated on the website). I cannot state how much I dislike the cask usage in these whiskies.

The entire concept of Waterford’s Terroir, the single farm origin, can only shine by giving them as little make-up as possible. If you want to be able to compare between one farm and the other, you have to have the same parameters except the farm. Much like BrewDog did years ago with their single hop IPAs, for example.

However, the Bannow Island matured in American oak, American virgin oak, French oak and sweet wine casks. The Ballykilcavan is almost similar with American oak, French oak and the Vin Doux Naturel casks. So no virgin oak in the second.

Personally, and I have to admit that I say this with no practical knowledge on maturation at all, I would have gone for just American oak casks. Just to have this as straight forward as possible.


Waterford 3 years old, Ballykilcavan, 50%

Sniff:
Sweet, with some wine like influence. Lots of fresh barley and greenmalt. Some oak but not a lot, quite some fruit too. Grapes, pear, pear skin.

Sip:
A tad sharper than expected, with lots of dry barley. The sweetness kicks in right after. Cracked black pepper and wine gums. Some banana.

Swallow:
The finish is sweet, grainy and green. Some fruit, wine gums, pepper, banana. Not too long though

The wine is quite pronounced on this one and I find it makes for a bit more convoluted dram than I would have preferred. Having said that, for a three year old whisky this is already very good. Also, you probably need younger whisky if you want to really taste the barley anyway.

Off to a pretty good start, but I don’t regret not having an entire bottle to myself.

85/100

All this whiskey’s specifics are here.


Waterford 3 years old, Bannow Island, 50%

Sniff:
Massive notes of barley, quite weighty. A hint of glue, crisp alcohol. A deeper noseful gives pineapple, grass, apple cores.

Sip:
The palate is quite like fresh crusty bread. Oven baked sesame seeds, barley. Quite crisp, but not too green. Gentle oak.

Swallow:
The finish shows that green note, with a hint of glue again. Not very long, but with barley sugar and some wine gums.

I have the feeling the barley shines more in this whiskey than in the other one. An absolutely lovely dram at a ridiculously young age. If this is the level of quality we can come to expect from Waterford, we’re in for a treat the coming years!

The wine casks were a lot more subdued than in the Ballykilcavan, and that’s a good thing. It’s therefor less sweet and gives some more room to the barley.

87/100

All this whiskey’s specifics are here.


My closing thoughts on what Waterford has shown us thusfar, is that they mean business. The Bannow Island is a whisky that is absolutely great for the age, and priced decently, compared to many other new distilleries.

I hope the cask randomness is going to be toned down a little bit without getting to a Bruichladdich-esque idiocy and us punters now being able to see the forest for the trees.

It’s quite miraculous how complex these whiskeys already are, and I think they can get overpowered by wood quickly. Of course, they can be absolutely fantastic at 12 years old or older, but it’ll be another decade before we will know that.

Unfortunately, the popularity of these bottles has not gone unnoticed, and prices have already doubled in the week that they’ve been out…

About Sjoerd de Haan-Kramer

I'm very interested in booze, with a focus on whisky. I like to listen to loads of music and play lots of Magic: the Gathering, and board games too. I'm married to Anneke, have two daughters Ot and Cato, a son Moos and a cat called Kikker (which means Frog, in Dutch). I live in Krommenie, The Netherlands.
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