Mark Reynier Is Doubling Down on Whisky Terroir

Grain Cathedral at Waterford Distillery, photo provided by Mark Reynier

Grain Cathedral at Waterford Distillery, photo provided by Mark Reynier

“The best barley that ever came is from Ireland…It’s a fantastic growing region… Whisky is about barley. That’s what it is. That’s what it comes from. And the best place to grow barley in Europe is Ireland.” — Mark Reynier

Mark Reynier’s History

On episode 22 of The Whisky Topic, Jamie and I interviewed Mark Reynier. Mark is best known for being behind the success of Bruichladdich Distillery (Islay, Scotland). In 2000, Mark Reynier purchased Bruichladdich with a small group of investors. They hired Jim McEwan as the master distiller. While facing many skeptics, Bruichladdich succeeded in making great whisky with a focus on whisky terroir.

In 2012, Bruichladdich was sold to Rémy Cointreau for £58m, many times its purchasing price. Mark Reynier was the only board member to vote against this sale. He felt the story wasn’t over: “I was personally upset (over the sale of Bruichladdich)… It was frustrating to abandon ship just as things were coming to fruition. But hey, we can do it bigger and in a more thorough way. There is a silver lining.”

Mark Reynier left Bruichladdich. In 2014, he purchased a former Guinness brewery in Ireland and transformed it to the Waterford Distillery. Not much as been written about Waterford Distillery, but Mark Reynier gave us a preview of what to expect.

Mark Reynier is Doubling Down on Terroir

“We are doubling the number of components, to make the most complex whisky possible.” — Mark Reynier

Bruichladdich focused on terroir by purchasing barley locally, at one point from 23 near-by farms, and 40% of the barley was grown organically (these numbers have since changed to keep with production demands). Waterford Distillery is doubling down, with forty-six different farms growing barley for distillation (6 are organic). The barley from each farm is expected to have nuances that’ll translate into the final product. Pictured above is custom-designed and built "Grain Cathedral" that will separately store the grain, providing full traceability back to the farm. 

Each field equates to one week of distillation. Each week, the distillery will be distilling barley from one farm. They will be able to see the affects of terroir, and assemble a range of complex flavours from individually barrel aged whisky.

Mark Reynier Changed His Mind on Tech

With Bruichladdich, Mark Reynier and partners famously replaced newer whisky-making equipment with older equipment for a more traditional whisky making process. With Waterford Distillery, Mark Reynier built a state-of-the-art distillery that’s focused on efficiency and functionality. As Mark Reynier put it: “It’s so modern, there are gadgets that no other distillery has… it’s not pretty, but it’s functional, and that’s all I need to covert my barley to whisky.”

Human resource wise, though, the Waterford Distillery goes back to the old times with a head brewer, head distiller, wood person, and warehouse person. There are also plans to experiment with yeast. However, the technology distilling the barley is all new.

Mark Reynier Won’t be Distracted with Making Gin and Vodka

Bruichladdich (like many distilleries) make gin to help fund the whisky making business. Waterford Distillery is financially structured to focus on only single malt whisky. There won’t be any distractions with vodka, gin, or other revenue streams.

"We’re going to be completely miserable bastards." — Mark Reynier

The first scotch isn’t expected until 2020 or so. It’ll be ready when it’s ready, and there won’t be any sneak-peeks at the product (I asked!). Distillation is starting up soon. That means the first whisky will be matured for about five years.

Waterford Whisky Won’t Have an Age Statement

Mark Reynier has some of the more reasonable views on no-age statement whisky: “I find it hard to believe that 10 year old whisky is the arbiter of all whisky… It depends on the barley … on the wood … how its been stored.. how its been put together. The wood used in the 70s and 80s was so overused it did very little to the whisky… If you do use good wood, and distill slowly, and use great barley, we have shown (in Bruichladdich) you can produce whiskies that are aged less and it’s hard to tell how old they are.”.

Listen to the entire podcast for the full interview to hear more about no-age statement whisky, Irish whiskey regulations, and more on Waterford Distillery.