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Whisky Created From Seeds With Help From Reading Museum

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The archives of The Museum of English Rural Life in Reading have played an important role in unravelling the story behind a new whisky with its origins in a bag of rare old grains.

Documents, research and correspondence from plant breeder and agricultural historian Dr Herbert Hunter have shed light on the story behind Heritage: Hunter – the new whisky from Ireland’s Waterford Distillery. 

Whisky Created From Seeds - MERL
Staff at The MERL receive a bottle of the new whisky from Waterford


The papers – stored at The MERL – served as an important source of information for the whisky experts after they linked up with curators.  

To create the whisky itself, Waterford Distillery had to upscale 50 grams of barley seeds over several years before there was enough to distil. 

Waterford Distillery CEO Mark Reynier was captivated by Dr Hunter’s legacy, as the latter spent much of his early career improving the quality of malting barley in Ireland’s farms.

Whisky Created From Seeds – Barley Variety

Whisky Created From Seeds @ MERL
The MERL was able to provide documents produced by Dr Herbert Hunter

This led to him creating his own barley variety, Spratt-Archer, which was the dominant variety in Ireland for 35 years, before this was superseded by another variety appropriately named after Hunter. 

All of his notebooks on this work, and many other vital documents, were given to the MERL by Hunter’s daughter some years after his death in 1959. 

Adam Lines, Collections Academic Liaison Officer at The MERL, said: “We have a large collection of Hunter’s papers which helps provide a fascinating insight into his tireless work during this particular part of agricultural history. 
“Naturally, the museum was the place to come for Waterford Distillery to learn more about Dr Hunter’s legacy. It is always a thrill to see historical records come to life once more and provide inspiration for current practice.  
“The finished product is a wonderful tribute to a pioneer, and I’m sure Dr Hunter would have been delighted to see his efforts recognised once more.”

Having created the first new whisky in a generation that is derived from Hunter barley, Waterford Distillery donated a bottle of Heritage: Hunter to The MERL’s Dr Hunter collection in a small ceremony at the museum on Thursday, 3 November.

Hunter is just the first of several heritage barley varieties that Waterford Distillery has now worked with, with each additional barley documented by Hunter himself in the papers now at The MERL.

Adam Wells, Content Editor at Waterford Distillery, said: “Like Hunter himself we are on a journey towards creating our own barley varieties, ideally suited to these Irish terroirs — in our case, in a quest for natural single malt whisky flavour. 

“To be able to look back through Ireland’s agricultural history, through the archives of the museum, as a companion to our own explorations, has been a rare and profound privilege.”