Young scientists investigate Terroir in Irish spirits

The BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition takes place this week (January 8-11) at the RDS in Dublin.

As always there is a strong agricultural contingent, and one project which came to AgriLand‘s attention was on Terroir in new-make spirits.

Two students from Loreto Secondary School in Co. Kilkenny are displaying the results of their investigation into Terroir in spirits, destined for whiskey, at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition this week.

Emily Duggan and Eva Duggan decided to examine the factors that affect Terroir – soil; micro-climate; plant; and site – for their project.

What is Terroir?

For those of you wondering what Terroir is, it is mentioned quite a bit here on AgriLand when talking about Waterford Distillery.

Terroir is the interaction of soil, micro-climate and site with a plant. Simply put, these factors are thought to affect the plant and then affect the product that it is used to produce.

In the case of this project the students examined how malting barley is affected by these factors and in turn how the new-make spirit produced using that barley is affected.

New make spirit is what is produced after distillation and has not been interfered with in any way. For example, it has not been placed in a cask.

The experiments and data

Using samples and data from four different farms, which grow malting barley for Waterford Distillery, Emily and Eva carried out soil tests in their school lab. They determined things like the soil’s texture, organic matter levels, soil pH levels and also sent these samples to be tested for different nutrients.

The pair also gathered weather data from the sites. The year which was used was 2018, a very dry year so there was little variation in weather during the growing season.

Variety and agronomy programmes were the same across all sites.

The results

The samples were sent to an independent and professional new-make spirit connoisseur in Scotland to determine the different notes in the spirit.

All four farms had different notes. Even two farms located in Co. Wexford produced very different products. One had notes of lemon, pear and plum, while the other had notes of sultanas, cherries, rape seed oil and cut grass.

From this report, it was clear that all four soils were different to each other. They also noted that all four spirits had their own unique scents and flavours.

Conclusion

All four crops were the same variety and were managed in the same way. The soil that they tested was different on all four farms. As a result, the students concluded that: “We believe we have proved the point; we set out to prove that Terroir does exist.”