Terroir: Need To Know
There is nothing complicated about terroir. It is quite simply the 3D interaction of soil, microclimate and place on a plant’s growth – and the flavours we can capture from that interaction. Farmers call it farming; gardeners call it gardening.
Terroir has nothing to do with the shape of the stills; it has nothing to do with where the barrels are stored; it has nothing to do with what a Master Distiller had for breakfast on any given morning – though two out of three of those inevitably have influence on the flavours found in the final whisky. Terroir is solely about the plant, barley and where it grows. The flavours derived from terroir are there only if you choose to look for it.
Yet the devil is in the detail; indeed, there are many devils in the industry who would seek to corrupt the word until it loses all meaning – that is, if they don’t deny its existence to begin with. It doesn’t help that there is no direct English translation, leaving it susceptible to being used misleadingly. The very concept itself goes against the grain of an industry that seeks homogeneity of its primary raw ingredient.
So we have pulled together our most precious resources to bring to life the concept, and provide more context for the curious. Digest the below and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a terroir expert overnight.
TERROIR DEMONSTRATED IN FOUR FLAVOUR CHARTS
A visual representation of terroir. Distillates from three soil series, over three harvests. Each soil series leaves a distinct flavour fingerprint, a unique identity, a specific ’shape’. Growing season variability – or vintage differences – are clearly evident.
WHAT IS TERROIR?
Let’s start with the basics, with that special, three-dimensional interaction of soil, microclimate and topography on plant growth – all of which are descriptions of terroir more commonly associated in the wine world, where the term is widely accepted and understood. All we have done is simply to apply that same methodology to barley.
WHISKY TERROIR PROJECT
World-leading barley expert, Dr Dustin Herb, led a sensory panel to evaluate real, commercial distillates, derived from different terroirs – as shown in the above diagrams. Download his summary.
THE TÉIREOIR CODE
Terroir is only one part of a triptych to achieve real provenance. You first need a terroir; then you need to prove it – traceability; and then to show it – transparency. Those three come together as part of our TÉIREOIR code, an Irish play on the word terroir that manifests through our unique bottle code. This unlocks an unprecedented level of information on origins of the barley, along with much more. It is the path to real provenance in whisky.