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December 9, 2015 – 14 years ago, Ruari Reynier was an infant when he helped his parents Mark and Maureen inaugurate the revived Bruichladdich Distillery on Islay in Scotland. Today, the 15-year-old made the first cut of the very first spirit still run at Ireland’s Waterford Distillery by himself – though his father was at his side and his mother was steps away. The inaugural still run came almost a year to the day after Reynier and his investors in Renegade Spirits announced their plans to acquire the former Guinness Brewery in Waterford and convert it into a single malt whiskey distillery. Diageo built the £40 million GBP ($61 million USD) state-of-the-art brewery in 2004 to replace the existing brewery at the site, but closed it at the end of 2013 as the company consolidated all of its Irish brewing operations at the main St. James Gate plant in Dublin.
As they passed around a glass of the new make spirit taken straight from the spirit safe, Mark Reynier was beaming like a proud father. “This is our first effort, so anything could happen, but if this is our starting point, that’s pretty damn impressive,” he said. The spirit produced in that first run will not be filled into casks, as several more weeks of testing and tweaking will be needed to work out the final balance of fermentation and distillation before cask-filling begins.
That work is being done by many of the former Guinness and Diageo employees who have returned to new jobs at the distillery, including Ned Gahan, who spent 15 years with Guinness at the plant and is now the head distiller. He made the final hydrometer check on the flow of alcohol off the spirit still before giving Ruari Reynier the green light to turn the handle and make the cut. Gahan spent a year after the brewery closed as a stay-at-home father to three young children while his wife worked, and came back to help Reynier’s team convert the plant into a distillery before he was offered the job as head distiller.
“When we’re driving in, they say ‘that’s where Daddy works…in the Waterford Distillery’ – I’m proud to hear them say that and they’re telling their friends who are four, five, or six,” he laughs. With pride, Gahan explains how the distillery already has 46 weeks worth of barley supplied by 46 farmers throughout the southern half of Ireland, and how each farm’s crop will be distilled separately throughout the year. Reynier refers to the barley storage facility outside of Waterford as the “cathedral of barley” and how they have documented the provenance of each crop right down to the exact balance of fertilizers – or lack thereof. In fact, organic barley supplied by some of the farmers will be fermented and distilled separately with their own holding tanks for the “pot ale” waste to keep that byproduct organic as well.
Many of Reynier’s former investors in Bruichladdich who profited when the distillery was sold to Rémy Cointreau in 2013 have signed on to back Renegade Spirits, including chairman Sir John MacTaggart and finance director John Adams. While Reynier was the lone opponent of the Bruichladdich sale, it is an ironic note that he’s now working with the man who engineered the deal. Former Rémy CEO Jean-Marie Laborde is one of the investors in Renegade Spirits and serves on the company’s board.
The first whiskey from Waterford will not be sold for at least five years, two years longer than the minimum maturation period for Irish Whiskey. By then, Ruari Reynier will be old enough to legally drink some of it.
Editor’s note: WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie attended the informal opening as an invited guest of Renegade Spirits. However, all editorial control over this story remained with WhiskyCast.
Links: Waterford Distillery