The Promise and Limitations of Terroir in Whisky: The First Biodynamic Single Malt

The Promise and Limitations of Terroir in Whisky: The First Biodynamic Single Malt
Courtesy of Whisky Magazine

The flavor of food can be affected by it?

A well-known buzzword in the wine world, biodynamic has only recently been applied to whiskey. The first two distilleries to tackle the concept have ties that explain why they are at the forefront. As the first Scottish distillery to produce biodynamic whiskey, Bruichladdich would make sense. Waterford Distillery released the first biodynamic Irish whiskey this fall.

The Islay distillery was the first to produce whiskey made from biodynamic barley ten years ago, thanks to Mark Reynier, former CEO of Bruichladdich and now president of Waterford. With its single farm, single vintage and expressions made from one type of barley, Bruichladdich is known for its intensive exploration of terroir on whiskey. What exactly is biodynamic whisky and how does it taste? What is the Biodynamic Project, and what makes it different from other whiskies? 

There are two aspects of the term biodynamic that are quite similar in whiskey and wine: Firstly, no chemical pesticides, fertilizers, or artificial additives were applied to the barley, and the soil in which it grows has been treated as part of an ecosystem in which natural processes sustain it. It's a conundrum, however, when it comes to whiskey, a conundrum: those who claim that distillation negates the effects of terroir could also apply to biodynamic practices as well, since distillation negates the effects of terroir.

It is true that this whiskey is made from barley that has been grown sustainably, but can you actually taste the difference between organic and non-organic? It is difficult to tell, although there have been studies that have proven terroir's influence on food, so why not biodynamics too? Ultimately, I don't think it's really relevant because if it's good and it's been produced in environmentally friendly methods, then isn't that a win-win situation?

Yes, the Biodynamic Project from Bruichladdich is a tasty single malt. It has been aged in first-fill bourbon casks for ten years, and the barley used was sourced from Yatesbury House Farm in Wiltshire, England, harvested in 2010. For Bruichladdich, whose whisky is always made from Scottish barley, this is an unusual occurrence, but since there is no biodynamic barley producer in Scotland, they had to look outside of the country for their barley.

Like all of Bruichladdich's whiskies, this whiskey is unpeated and, as always, is bottled without any color added or chill filtration. This is a lovely sweet and soft whiskey, with hints of honey, vanilla, peaches, pear, raspberries, as well as some caramel on the finish. There is a hint of spice on the palate, but overall it is a lovely soft and sweet whiskey.

As far as Adam Hannett and the Bruichladdich team are concerned, the point is twofold. In the first place, there was the sense of experimentation and boundary pushing that is so often the hallmark of Bruichladdich in the world of scotch whiskey, as well as the joy of tinkering with preconceived notions within this industry, which has long been set in its ways.

It is also important to note how biodynamic practices have an impact on the soil and on the environment in general, or their lack thereof. The distillery boasts a carbon audit that basically said the effects of the biodynamic practices at the farm had a carbon-positive effect, which means that more carbon was retained in the soil than was emitted.

As you may know, climate change is a growing problem that is looming and very current, and it is no small feat to accomplish such a feat. It is important to keep in mind that, as always, flavor and quality are paramount, because I doubt that even the most environmentally conscious distillery would want to promote a crap whisky. Thanks to the Biodynamic Project, in this case, both the environment as well as your taste buds will be pleased with the result.

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