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Issue 132 - Water, Water Everywhere

Whisky Magazine Issue 132
December 2015

 

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Water, Water Everywhere

Water serves various purposes when producing Scotch malt whisky, but the use of water has conditions attached

Distilleries have always been located by a suitable supply of water, such as a river, with a license to abstract water granted by SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency). But this is only after SEPA has examined the relevant water course to ensure that the quantities abstracted won't have any adverse effect, such as the source drying up.

Water is used in two distinct ways: as an ingredient in malt whisky, and in a more practical manner to heat the stills and cool the condensers.

As an ingredient water is used for mashing (when hot water is added to the barley, converting the starches it contains into sugars). Subsequently, water is added to new make spirit to reduce the alcoholic strength prior to filling into casks for aging. Water is also added to mature malt whisky (as required) so that it can be bottled at a specific alcoholic strength.

Meanwhile, steam is the standard method of heating the stills. A boiler heats water with the resulting steam conducted through pipes in the boil pot (base) of the still. This in turn heats the charge (alcoholic liquid being distilled), causing alcoholic vapours to rise to the top of the stills, from where they are conducted to the condensers, in order to condense back into liquid alcohol.

Water used to steam heat the stills is effectively in continuous circulation within the heating system. However, water used to cool the condensers is abstracted from a local source, such as a river, and subsequently returned to it (subject ...

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