The drop that makes the dramSeptember 5th, 2012
Jonny McCormick, Whisky Advocate contributor brings exclusive news of a new product which could enhance your enjoyment of single malt Scotch whisky.
Here’s the thing. When you reward yourself with a decent single malt whisky, most of us add a little splash of water to bring the alcohol strength down to allow the aroma and flavor sensations to blossom fully. It’s a personal thing, but do you stop to think about the water you add?
That’s where Uisge Source hopes to make a difference by launching a range of bottled Scottish spring water specifically chosen for the single malt drinker. Starting with the belief that the best water to splash into your dram is the water from which the whisky is made, they set out to research the benefits and science behind this. I’ll admit, I was sceptical at first but the arguments are plausible and intriguing. I’m aware that if I drink single malts when I’m travelling and ask for water, I may be offered anything from a giant vessel of city tap water to a bottle of sparkling mineral water depending on the establishment. Here and there, I suspect you may have had similar disappointments too (or you’re drinking in more sophisticated bars than me). The type of water you add does irrefutably alter the flavor and experience. Just try drinking a whisky you know intimately far from home with the local tap water and you’ll see the difference.
There has to be a scientific reason behind this phenomenon? Dr. Bill Lumsden, master distiller, the Glenmorangie company, agrees, “It’s the provenance and sense of place which makes single malt whisky so unique. Adding water from the same source can only help protect the integrity of the spirit”. Furthermore, the character of the water is intrinsically linked to the geology of its origin, a concept explored by Dr. Stephen Cribb, author of Whisky on the Rocks and a geologist who has studied the origins of water supplying Scottish distilleries. “The chemistry of the water used to make whisky affects the character of that whisky. Adding source water or water with similar properties will ensure that no additional chemical factors are introduced and the character remains unchanged.”
As whisky matures in the cask, the interaction draws flavor from the wood. Similarly, water draws minerals which affects its character as it filters through the terrain whether its sandstone, limestone or peat. The team behind Uisge Source come from strong whisky industry backgrounds and set about trying to establish the character of the water in different distilling regions. They measured seven key minerals and graded each water according to its Total Hardness Score. Next, they explored the localities seeking wells and springs that would provide a suitable source of high quality, pure, clean spring water. Easier said than done and I’m told several sites were rejected for not meeting the quality standards or ideal water chemistry to represent the region. In the end, they have secured supply from three private springs for the exclusive use for the Uisge Source waters. The water to complement Islay whiskies comes from the Ardilistry Spring, Islay and is the first bottled water from the Scottish Isles. It has a higher natural acidity due to the water filtering through the peat. The Highland water comes from St Colman’s Well, Ross-shire, the most northerly bottled water in Scotland and like the water used in the popular Highland distilleries, it is hard water very high in minerals. The predominance of granite in the hard rock strata of Speyside means that the soft water picks up fewer minerals and is one of the reasons behind the concentration of distilleries in the area. The Speyside water from The Cairngorms Well, Moray is from one of Scotland’s highest natural springs and provides a soft water low in minerals. The 100ml bottles are hand-filled and contain sufficient supply to complement 5-10 drams and will be sold individually or in a three-region selection pack. Expect to see them in specialist whisky retailers in the UK initially (but refreshingly, there are no restrictions on posting water internationally), but expect them to appear at other specialist retailers, whisky events and the kind of bars and hotels who keep ahead of the curve.
My take on this, as I anticipate getting hold of some and playing around with some familiar malts, is that this should help drinkers get the very best from their whiskies and makes for good discussion. I can see that partnering the whisky with complementary regional water should retain the true and original character of the whisky – an antithesis to my experiences with whiskies dulled by tap water in large cities. I find parallels with audiophiles listening to incredible music recordings through superior acoustic equipment compared to the same performance relayed through cheap tinny speakers. Similar to the successful introduction of the Glencairn glass, this could help complete the perfect serve. I’m curious and looking forward to trying it and hearing what everyone else thinks.