The Whisky Terroir Project – Paper One

element: Spirit / DATE: 23/03/2021

THE IMPACT OF TERROIR ON THE FLAVOUR OF SINGLE MALT WHISKY NEW MAKE SPIRIT

JOURNAL NAME: FOODS

MANUSCRIPT ID: FOODS-1084468

TYPE OF MANUSCRIPT: ARTICLE

TITLE: THE IMPACT OF TERROIR ON THE FLAVOUR OF SINGLE MALT WHISKY NEW MAKE SPIRIT

AUTHORS: DR MARIA KYRALEOU, DR DUSTIN HERB, GRACE O’REILLY, NEIL CONWAY, TOM BRYAN, PROF. KIERAN N. KILCAWLEY

The first rigorous, academic paper in our ongoing Whisky Terroir Project – “The impact of terroir on the Flavour of Single Malt Whisky New Make Spirit” – has officially been published in the peer-review journal Foods.

The game-changing research using the very latest Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrum Olfactometry (GC/MS-O), demonstrates analytically and sensorially that terroir influences the flavours in both barley and the spirit distilled from that barley.

Though we of course knew it all along, this paper proves once and for all – beyond denial and intuition – the influence of terroir on single malt whisky new make spirit.

Dr Dustin Herb, Lead researcher, Post-doctoral at Oregon State University: “This interdisciplinary study investigated the basis of terroir by examining the genetic, physiological, and metabolic mechanisms of barley contributing to whisky flavour.

Using standardized malting, fermenting and distillation protocols, we observed distinct flavours associated with the test environments and observed year-to-year variations too, indicating that terroir is a significant contributor to whisky flavour.”

Of over 2000 flavour compounds, the majority insignificantly registering, the main 42 compounds observed in highest concentration were the focus of the study, of these half were ‘fixed’ and half directly influenced by terroir.

Critics have suggested that any terroir effect could not survive the distillation process. However Rob Arnold, author of The Terroir of Whiskey, observes that: “…matter is never destroyed, and flavour compounds are matter. You might capture, manipulate, and concentrate flavour compounds due to the whiskey-making process, but you do not destroy those that originate in the grain.”

Mark Reynier: “Barley makes malt whisky the most flavour-rich spirit in the world, and at Waterford we’re on a mission to create the most profound one of all. To do so we have rejected homogeneity and extol individuality going to extraordinary lengths both to identify, protect and showcase barley’s extraordinary natural flavours and that means exploring the terroirs of Southern Ireland, farm by farm.

Some in the industry, for obscure reasons and despite mounting evidence, deny the existence of terroir in barley, or the spirit distilled from it. Yet this study proves once and for all what we knew all along: not only is terroir influencing flavour compounds in barley but its effect clearly comes through the whisky making process too. If you let it, terroir can and does influence the flavour of single malt whisky.

“Perhaps terroir even shaped the origins of whisky, the historical development from small scale farm to global commodity-led supply? Our own research is a platform to propagate, for the first time in 50 years, new varieties based on flavour rather than just yield, ideally matching flavours to soils and micro climates”.

The study has revealed other surprising subsidiary findings.

This first paper explores the terroir impact via a neutrally produced whisky, laboratory malted and distilled for uniformity and to remove any possible production variables. The next stage – which will be published in 2022 – further explores the same role of terroir in whisky, this time using sensory analysis based on our own commercial spirit.

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