When it comes to the flavour of whiskey, water plays just as crucial of a role as wood. The quality of the water is a major factor in determining the quality of the whiskey itself. This can be seen in the fact that phrases such as “fresh spring water” are used to market the beverage.
Even if the highest quality of wood is used, if the water is not fresh and/or local, the quality of the spirit is greatly reduced. This is due to the fact that water is greatly used in the production of whiskey, and that the minerals and location of the water have an impact on the spirit’s flavour.
The Production of Whiskey
In the production of whiskey, water plays three major roles. The grist is added to warm water during the mashing process, so that the sugars can be extracted and so it can become liquid that will be distilled.
Then, water is added to the distillate to cool it down. Finally, after cask maturation, water is added before bottling in order to bring down the whiskey’s proof.
The purity and mineral attributes of water used during the whiskey-making process have a key effect on the final outcome of the beverage. It can add to the weight of the drink, and can also impact the flavour, adding some sweetness and/or tartness.
And the chemical attributes play a key role in how the whiskey turns out during the final stages in the distillery. If the water chosen for this process is of low quality, then the congeners will not settle down properly, meaning that the efforts put into the distillation after maturation will be for nothing.
For those very reasons, distilleries are often located beside a river or lake. This ensures that the distillery is able to get the highest quality, freshest water. Fresh water doesn’t just ensure that the process will not be ruined; it also impacts the flavour.
The mineral attributes of water, as stated previously, add to the flavour of the whiskey. For instance, areas with more limestone in the water, such as Kentucky, will have a stronger tartness, while areas with less limestone will lack this flavour.
Distilleries will also use water from glaciers and snow-melts, which adds a lighter finish to the whiskey.
But the minerals aren’t the only aspects of water that have an impact on the flavour of whiskey. Water naturally absorbs the aromas and flavours around it; therefore, it can add said aromas and flavours to the spirit.
For instance, if freshwater is in close proximity to the ocean, a certain acidic flavour will be added to the whiskey. This can be seen in a peated Scotch, for instance.
The water used to make it is close to the ocean, which adds to its distinct flavour just as much as the peat does.
While wood is usually what gets the most attention in terms of what gives a whiskey its flavour, water plays just as important a role. From its nourishment in the distilling process, to the flavour it adds to the final product, the water used gives the beverage a distinct taste and appeal.