How much of an effect does water have when it comes to making whisky? This is a very common question, and one the distillery can’t quite answer fully, mainly because there are so many factors involved in shaping a whisky’s final outcome that it would be silly to rule water out completely.
Having worked for a few of the industry’s bigger players in the last few years I was led to believe that water had a minimal effect. It is all distilled at least twice of course, and therefore effectively neutralised. Today I stand by this explanation, but as always, am happy to keep an open mind and look at any evidence to the contrary.
One source of water we never looked at in the past though, was the water used for cutting your whisky down to bottling strength. Most of the industry use de-mineralised water for this process, as centralised bottling practices have emerged. A completely sensible and understandable approach to ensure the water doesn’t undo any of the hard work invested at a distillery when making a spirit. So why am I even approaching this subject?
Well, a few weeks back you may remember that I was on Islay starting my Bruichladdich Adventure. During what was a sensational week of hard work (and play) I got to meet the legend that is James Brown… not that one. The James Brown of Octomore Farm on Islay.
He was carting around 1000 litre containers of water back and forward from the distillery. I had always known Bruichladdich had cut their whisky on site. Their bottling plant makes this inevitable. What I wasn’t aware of was the source of this water and it’s purity. Old images of brown water cutting brown whisky were quickly dashed, as were images of magical waterfalls and aquamarine pools.
The Bruichladdich water source sits on James Brown’s farm, just up the hill from Port Charlotte. A hole in the ground, it’s nothing special to look at, but when you draw a glass from it you see a complete contrast to the peaty water everywhere else on the island.
The water here used to supply the whole village of Port Charlotte. It has very little flavour, a high mineral content and was rumoured to lead to extended life. Purity in a glass.
Does it effect the flavour of the final product? Probably not, but it adds to Bruichladdich’s provenance, purity and dedication to the island that undoubtedly shapes their spirits.