The Whisky Word

The Whisky Word
13 Dec 2012

Sam Simmons - Watering the water of life

Old marketing materials project the idea that water source is vital to whisky. In the days when malt was still a new category (not as long ago as you might think!) the hardest decision a malt drinker had to make at the bar was Glenfiddich or Glenlivet. So distilleries had to find ways to differentiate themselves so even if you lived 12,000 miles away from Scotland, you grew to know more about Josie's Well and the Robbie Dhu spring than most locals. 

In the 70s, and still in some promo materials today, distilleries really made a big marketing stink about their water sources. It made sense as single malts were just emerging in global markets and the consumer needed simple, memorable, and romantic points of difference to know their Glenlivet from their Glenfiddich. Add to this the business reality of consolidation that was running rampant at the time and larger companies were centralizing their bottling plants and using treated water to bring their malts and blends down to desired strength. Obviously, a major point of difference at that time would have been adding unique value to unique NATURAL water sources.
Whatever the effect of water on whisky scientifically, it is fair to say that the single most important fact in choosing the location of distillery is the availability of a good clean water source as water is used in nearly every stage of the whisky-making process. Out of necessity, crofter distilling took root along the arteries of the land, "lands of hills and valleys, of lochs and mountain streams, of much poor land but of very good water," (R.J.S. McDowall, The Whiskies of Scotland, 1967). 
Sam Simmons 
The Balvenie Global Ambassador

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