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Issue 26 - A drop of the soft stuff

Whisky Magazine Issue 26
October 2002

 

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A drop of the soft stuff

Ian Wisniewski assesses the effect of the water used in whisky production and as mixer on the drink we love

Explaining differences between single malts on the basis of the water used was always very convenient. Embodying a host of ecovalues, the image of a bubbling brook is far more evocative than explaining the contribution made by other factors such as the strain of yeast, the degree of reflux, the influence of copper, and, of course, maturation.

The sheer volume of water in every bottle of malt whisky, with a malt bottled at 40% abv containing around 60% water, suggests that water is a primary influence. Moreover, varying water sources, whether it's a spring, loch, stream or river, as well as the underlying geology through which the water has ‘filtered', ensure that the nature of the water can differ enormously from one distillery to another.

However, trying to determine the extent to which the water's original characteristics remain intact during the production process, and how influential they may be in the resulting dram, is a more difficult prospect.

But first, let's recap on H2O's opportunities: during steeping and mashing, which is referred to as the ‘process water', and as ‘reduction water', which is used to lower the alcoholic strength for barreling and bottling. (This is an important distinction as different criteria typically apply to the process and the reduction water).

Using peaty water for steeping is often said to endow the barley with phenolic characteristics. However, attributing any phenolics directly to the water can be difficult, as even unpeated ...

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